Skip to main content

Full text of "Scythian Mythology"

See other formats





••■.:,.■ •■■> 


' ■ 


m m 












RaevskiyOv^ Y I Pi I /A IN 


Secor Publishers 
Sofia, 1993 

© 1993 Secor Publishers, 

Sofia, Bulgaria 
© Dmitriy Raevskiy 
© Kiril Prashkov, 

Nedyalko Barakov 
© Nedyalka Chakalova 

All rights reserved 
ISBN 954-8250-02-0 

The Publishers are grateful 
for the financial support 
of Kultur Kontakt. 



Eine initiative d e s B M U K 

D, Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


The Scythians were an ethnos 
which played a considerable role in the 
ancient history 7 of Eurasia and created 
remarkable works of art, which have 
been resurrected for a new life owing 
to the noble efforts of several genera- 
tions of archaeologists. The varied 
Scythian monuments have attracted the 
special interest of researchers even to 
this day; however, they cannot be un- 
derstood and interpreted fully if the my- 
thology of this ethnos is not under- 
stood. According to contemporary 
scholarly views, during the early stages 
of human history it was precisely the 
mythology of one social group or an- 
other which served as a concentrated 
expression of the entire scope of no- 
tions about Nature and society, typical 
of that group, reflecting its understand- 
ing of the cosmic and social order, i.e. 
the notion about the structure of the 
world and of its place in that world. 
According to the definition given by 
the Russian researcher E.M.Meletinskiy 
( 1 976), mythology in the archaic society 
was a totally dominating way of global 
conceptualization and the soul of a uni- 
fied and homogeneously semiotized cul- 
ture, i.e. it was actually mythology that 
formed the entire range of varied sign 
systems through which each culture ex- 
presses itself We have to take into con- 
sideration such a ''mythological prism" 
not only when we study the semantics of 
the monuments of art, of ritual or cult 
objects, but also when we explore those 
spheres of the ancient social way of life 
and consciousness, which from a mod- 
ern viewpoint appear to be completely 
autonomous from the religious and 
mythological thinking, e.g.. from the 
notions of a certain society about its 
social structure, about the forms and 
functions of its political institutions, etc. 

In other words, it is impossible to 
understand fully the culture of an an- 
cient ethnos without studying its my- 

Such an approach to the problem 


makes it necessary to speeify first of all 
what is to be understood by the term 
mythology in this book and which of the 
ancient monuments will be considered 
to be mythological monuments. The tra- 
ditional notion about mythology as a set 
of myths, i.e. narratives about events from 
the remote mythological past, populated 
by deities, daemons, heroes, progenitors, 
narratives about the origin of the world, 
about how "everything happened the way 
it is", is absolutely correct, but it fails to 
exhaust the issue, which has another 
aspect as well. The very existence of 
these narratives was the only means 
which ancient men had to introduce or- 
der in the Universe around them in some 
way, to express their notions about its 
structure, and in other words - to give 
substance to the model of the world in- 
herent to the concrete culture. In its turn, 
this model of the world, which defined 
all forms of activities of ancient man, 
found expression in monuments of a nar- 
rative and other nature, in symbolic im- 
ages, in the structure of the dwellings. 
in the grave, in cult buildings, and in 
the understanding about space and the 
structure of the human body. According 
to the terminology accepted in modern 
research, it can be expressed through 
different codes. The present book will 
examine precisely this mythological 
model of the world of Scythian culture, 
which has found incarnations of a var- 
ied code nature. 

It is necessary to make another thing 
clear as well, namely the exact meaning 
which we invest in the concept of 
"Scythians", because different special- 
ists attribute different meanings to the 
name. The semantic differences have 
their historical roots. As is known, mod- 
ern researchers have adopted the ethn- 
onym "Scythians" from the ancient 
(Greek-Roman) tradition; the problem 
about the actual zone inhabited by the 
ethnic community bearing that name is 
solved in accordance with the interpre- 
tation given to the data relevant to that 

tradition. Incidentally, even the ancient 
authors themselves did not by far invest 
the same meaning in the concept of 
4i Scythians". They often used it very 
broadly to denote a wide range of tribes 
which inhabited the Eurasian steppes 
from the Lower Danube in the west to 
Southern Siberia and Central Asia in 
the cast during the 1st millennium BC, 
as well as for the inhabitants of some 
forest-steppe and mountainous regions. 
The interpretation of the population of 
such a vast region as one cthnos seems 
to be initially justified in the evidence of 
the archaeological material: a large num- 
ber of monuments dated to the 1st mil- 
lennium BC. i.e. to the Scythian period, 
discovered throughout the cited territo- 
ry, betray a certain similarity, which has 
given ground to many researchers to in- 
terpret all of them as belonging to the 
same - Scythian - culture. 

However, more detailed further stud- 
ies of these monuments have shown that 
their similarity is manifested above all 
in those features which arc easily bor- 
rowed, which can easily pass from one 
culture or ethnic community to another. 
These monuments differ substantially 
from one another in a number of most 
essential features, forming a scries of 
local variants, which actually mean dif- 
ferent archaeological cultures whose car- 
riers were different ethnic communities. 
In this connection, it is necessary to re- 
call that the ancient tradition had anoth- 
er interpretation of the concept of 
"Scythians" as well. For example, the 
5th century BC Greek historian Herodo- 
tus, who has left us the most detailed 
description of the life of the Scythians, 
has restricted severely the territory of 
Scythia between the northern Pontic 
coasts in the territory between the Da- 
nube (ancient Islros) and Don (ancient 
Tanais). using the name "Scythians" 
mainly when referring to the inhabit- 
ants of that /.one. He even considered 
the lands to the cast of the Tanais river, 
populated by the Sauromatcs - an eth- 


D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 

nos which, according to Herodotus, orig- 
inated from immigrants from Scythia 
and spoke a language close to the Scyth- 
ian one -as non-Scythian lands. Herodo- 
tus (IV, 6) informs that the population 
of Scythia called themselves "Skolotoi f \ 
while "Scythians" (Skyihai) was the 
name given to them by the Greeks. How- 
ever, the linguistic analysis undertaken 
by O.Semercni, I.M.Dyakonov. and oth- 
ers, has shown these two names to be 
dialectal forms of the same ethnonym, 
fixed at a different time and in different 
ways through the Greek language. This 
ethnonym is known to us in another form 
as well: the cthnos which penetrated into 
Western Asia from the north in the 7th 
century BC - which should be identified 
with the Pontic Scythians on the basis of 
varied evidence - was referred to in the 
ancient Eastern texts as ' 'Is-gu-za-ai ' 
or ' 'As-gu-za-ai ' ', which is indisputably 
identical to the Greek "Skythai", i.e. 
Scythians. The same root is also per- 
ceived in some proper names along the 
Northern Pontic coasts, dated to the 
Scythian period. 

A comparison of all these data justi- 
fies the conclusion that the name 
"Scythians" was given exclusively to 
the population along the Northern Pon- 
tic coast. It is precisely these people that 
the Greeks met earlier than the other 
ethnic communities in the steppe bell of 
Eurasia, hence in Greek tradition the 
name of this ethnos has adopted the char- 
acter of a generalizing term to designate 
a large group of steppe tribes and peo- 
ples, in addition to its concrete histori- 
cal content. These tribes and peoples 
indeed had many common cultural fea- 
tures with the Scythians, some of them 
were even ethnically related to them. 
but nevertheless these were different eth- 
nic communities and they never called 
themselves Scythians. 

Scythians will be referred to in this 
book in the proper, concrete historical 
meaning of that concept, i.e. the cthnos 
that lived in the Northern Pontic steppes 

in the period between the 7th and the 
3rd century BC (and in the early stages 
of its evolution apparently in the Fore- 
Caucasus as well). That was a powerful 
agglomeration of several nomadic and 
agricultural tribes, in which the nomad- 
ic tribe of the Royal Scythians had a 
dominant position (it seems that pre- 
cisely they were the original bearers of 
the scif-appc Nation "Sky thai or Skofo- 
toi"). In the course of time, the Scyth- 
ian alliance of tribes grew into an early 
state formation. In the 7th and early 6th 
century' BC. the Scythians undertook a 
scries of devastating campaigns into the 
ancient Eastern lands: they took part in 
the crushing of Assyria, sowed fear in 
Mydia and even reached Egypt. Later, 
towards the end of the 6th century BC, 
the Scythians themselves were attacked 
by an awesome adversary', they had to 
repulse the incursion of the Persian 
troops led by king Darius - an attack 
that did not bring success to the Per- 
sians and ended with their expulsion 
from Scythia, In the 5lh-4th century BC 
Scythia experienced a period of most 
active flourishing, evidenced by the big 
tumuli that still rise in the Pontic steppes 
- monumental tombs of Scythian kings 
and of representatives of the higher ar- 
istocracy. In the 3rd century BC the 
Scythian kingdom started to decline 
gradually and in the 2nd century BC it 
failed to resist the pressure of the Sar- 
matian tribes that had come from the 
east, from Tanais. thus actually it stopped 
existing as a big and powerful state, 
while the Late Scythian kingdom sur- 
vived until the 3rd century BC only on 
the territory along the Lower Dnicpr and 
in the steppes of Crimea. Later, under 
the pressure of new tribes which settled 
along the Northern Black Sea coasts, the 
Scythians disappeared altogether from the 
historical scene during the time of the 
Great Migration of Peoples. Such is the 
brief outline of the political history of 
those people, whose mythology will be 
the object of our attention in this book. 



What sources can serve as the basis 
for studying Scythian mythology and 
above all its narrative texture, i.e. the 
Scythian myths in the real sense of that 
term? In the most ancient stages in the 
history of mankind myths lived only in 
the oral tradition. Later, with the ap- 
pearance of writing and literature, this 
tradition was complemented by the ex- 
istence of written fixations, the myth 
entered the literature, which guaranteed 
its preservation for centuries, long after 
the people who had generated it had 
disappeared. However, throughout their 
entire history, the Scythians were a non- 
literary society, hence there are no au- 
thentic records of Scythian myths, creat- 
ed by the actual carriers of the tradition 
of interest to us. The practically com- 
plete disappearance of the Scythians from 
the historical scene resulted in the dis- 
continuation of the Scythian mythical 
and epic tradition as well. Indeed, spe- 
cialists believe that in thcNartic epic tra- 
dition of the Ossets from the Northern 
Caucasus it is possible to identify a layer 
whose origin can be traced back to the 
Scythian period. Besides, a certain Scyth- 
ian component probably took part in the 
ethnogenesis of the Ossctic people. How- 
ever, the Sarmatae - another ancient 
ethnos from the steppes of Eastern Eu- 
rope, related to the Scythians, but never- 
theless with a slightly different culture - 
played a considerably greater role for 
the differentiation of the Ossetic people 
than the Scythians. It is practically im- 
possible to differentiate between the 
Scythian and the Sarmatian element in 
the Ossctic folklore heritage, all the more 
that it had been exposed to other cultur- 
al traditions as well, hence the Nartic 
epos should not be examined as a cul- 
tural phenomenon which had preserved 
Scythian folklore for us in a relatively 
complete form. 

From everything stated so far it is 
evident that modern scholars cannot con- 
sider Scythian mythology as something 
given. In order to subject this mythology 

to a comprehensive analysis and to use 
it as an instrument for understanding 
Scythian culture as a whole, it is neces- 
sary first of all to reconstruct the my- 
thology of the Scythians. The character 
of this book has been prompted largely 
by that circumstance: instead of a con- 
sistent presentation of Scythian myths, 
the reader will find here a description of 
the process of their genesis and repro- 
duction, and will be able to judge to 
what extent the proposed reconstruction 
is convincing. 

This reconstruction is based on var- 
ious indirect sources, a considerable part 
of which arc not of Scythian origin, but 
belong to other cultures. Ancient liter- 
ary sources feature most prominently in 
this respect. After the 7th century EC, 
many Greek colonies cropped up along 
the Northern Pontic coasts, in immedi- 
ate proximity to the territories inhabited 
by the Scythians. For many centuries the 
life of these cities was closely related to 
the local tribes, hence abundant and var- 
ied evidence about the Scythians pene- 
trated the Greek environment and was 
reflected in the works of the ancient writ- 
ers. Among them there were stories 
which can be traced back to the Scyth- 
ian myths. The ancient authors present- 
ed them differently. Sometimes we see a 
fragment of a narrative nature that has 
been expanded to a greater or lesser ex- 
tent, having preserved the structure of 
the Scythian original, on other occasions 
in the descriptive texts - geographic, 
ethnographic, etc. - there are isolated 
references to some mythological charac- 
ters and fragmentary evidence about re- 
alia and notions associated with them. 
Often even the Greek or Roman author 
who had preserved for us some message 
of this kind, was not aware that he was 
actually reproducing evidence of a myth- 
ological nature, but perceived it rather 
as a description of Scythian reality. Nat- 
urally, by far not the whole Scythian 
mythology . with its entire wealth of im- 
ages, scenes and stories, was reflected in 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 

the ancient literature. Besides, if we re- 
call what a large part of that literature 
has not survived to our days, it becomes 
obvious that on the basis of these sourc- 
es it would be possible to reconstruct 
only a very limited number of the Scyth- 
ian myths. However, it is perfectly natu- 
ral that the ancient authors fixed in their 
writings predominantly Scythian myths 
that had a leading role in the cultural 
life of Scythia. Hence the great impor- 
tance of the available sources. 

After we select from the whole fund 
of ancient evidence about the Scythians 
those fragments which most probably 
originated from Scythian mythology, it 
would be necessary to check in them the 
accuracy of the content of the Scythian 
myths - after all, the authors of the works 
used belonged to the non-Scythian cul- 
tural tradition and they could distort that 
content and the meaning of the narra- 
tives they heard either voluntarily or in- 
voluntarily. Most essential for such a 
verification would be the objects of art 
and above all the images and scenes 
which reproduce some episodes from the 
Scythian myths, or at least some of their 
prominent figures, w ith their character- 
istic and easily identifiable iconograph- 
ic features. But this faces us with anoth- 
er difficulty. 

The trouble is that the Scythians 
were virtually unfamiliar with pictorial 
art in the real meaning of this term. 
Throughout the entire Scythian history. 
Scythian culture was dominated by the 
so-called "animal style" in art, i.e. spe- 
cifically stylized images of certain ani- 
mals, rendered in strictly canonic pos- 
tures. Naturally, this art is connected 
with the mythological notions of the 
Scvthians and their semantic value will 
be discussed again later in this book 
The semantics itself can be understood 
only on the basis of sufficient knowl- 
edge about the Scythian mythological 
picture of the world, but nevertheless 
this art cannot be used as a source for 
initial familiarization with Scythian my- 

thology, and even less with its narrative 

It was only in the 4th century BC 
that anthropomorphic images of the 
mythical figures began to appear in the 
art of the Scythians, to a great extent 
under the influence of the artistic cul- 
ture of the Greeks. However, the reper- 
tory of such images was extremely poor, 
the craftsmanship of the execution too 
primitive and they were not very infor- 
mative in the aspects of interest to us. 
Therefore, much more attention should 
be given to another category of monu- 
ments of art originating from the Scyth- 
ian tumuli, namely the objects of the so- 
called Graeco-Scythian art. 

These were objects that had the tra- 
ditional forms for Scythia. but they were 
made by Greek - not local - artists and 
craftsmen, and were decorated with 
scenes that were Greek interpretations 
of Scythian scenes. These images are of 
indisputable interest for us in the con- 
text of the theme discussed. With all the 
artistic skills inherent to Greek anthro- 
pomorphic art from the ages of the Late 
Classicism and Early Hellenism, the art- 
ists and the goldsmiths succeeded in dec- 
orating the small surface of precious ves- 
sels, the small gold applique or the ob- 
ject from among the individual articles 
of adornment with an exquisitely bal- 
anced multi-figure composition or even 
with a scries of successive "episodes" 
which present the fabula in its evolu- 
tion. The first finds of such objects of art 
appeared more than 150 years ago and 
their ever-growing collection adorns 
many museums on the territory of the 
former Soviet Union. The masterpieces 
in this scries have always attracted the 
attention of specialists and they serve as 
the object of different studies. However, 
one of the key issues - about the mean- 
ing of the images decorating these ob- 
jects of art - has remained debatable to 
this day. 

These compositions were most fre- 
quently referred to as ^scenes from the 



life of the Scythians" and this name 
reflects their prevailing interpretation as 
something like scenes from everyday life. 
Some of them reflect scenes from the 
military life of the Scythians, other 
scenes are from their economic activi- 
ties. The reason for their emergence is 
considered to be the "ethnographic in- 
terests" of the Greeks and the attention 
they devoted to Scythian exotic rcalia. 
However, such an interpretation comes 
up against many rather unsurmountablc 

It is interesting to note above all the 
uniqueness of this Graeco-Scythian sc- 
ries in the total repertory of Greek artis- 
tic crafts. Why were such "ethnograph- 
ic interests" totally lacking in the works 
of those Greek craftsmen who offered 
their services at other "barbaric" mar- 
kets, e.g. the Thracian one? Among the 
numerous Greek objects discovered in 
Thracian archaeological monuments 
there is not a single one decorated with 
some "scene from the life of the Thra- 
cians" that could be considered to be 
some analogy to the Scythian monu- 
ments of interest to us. Such "ethno- 
graphic sketches" are likewise lacking 
in the other parts of the periphery of the 
ancient world. Moreover, it is hardly a 
coincidence that such scenes decorated 
objects that had precisely Scythian forms. 
i.e. forms typical of the local Pontic cul- 
ture. It is perfectly obvious that in the 
concrete case we are dealing with ob- 
jects that fulfil the orders of the con- 
sumer environment. What is more, these 
objects were most frequently used not in 
everyday life but for ritual purposes, e.g. 
cult vessels or the official weapons worn 
by the Scythian chieftains. Scythian rit- 
ual practice would hardly have endorsed 
objects decorated with images which arc 
deprived of sacral content (from a Scyth- 
ian point of view), whose choice would 
have been prompted exclusively by the 
preferences of the Greek artist or crafts- 

And finally, it should be borne in 

mind that over the past years many spe- 
cialists have discovered cases of direct 
coincidence between the content of such 
compositions and fragments of Scythian 
myths or descriptions of Scythian ritu- 
als, preserved by the ancient authors, 
which finally confirmed the religious and 
mythological character of these compo- 
sitions. In the light of these data it seems 
feasible that the remaining images in 
the cited series were also similar. With 
such compositions the Greek artists 
probably responded to the existing de- 
mand in the Scythian environment for 
such images and scenes with a mytho- 
logical content - a demand which Scyth- 
ian craftsmen were unable to meet for 
lack of pictorial tradition in their cul- 
ture. However, if Graeco-Scythian works 
of art arc approached from such a start- 
ing point, their content would become a 
particularly valuable source for recon- 
structing Scythian narrative mythology. 
In combination with the mentioned frag- 
ments of Scythian myths, which have 
survived to our days in the works of the 
ancient authors, they make possible the 
reconstruction of a large part of the fab- 
ula range of these myths and of their 
narrative texture. 

However, as was pointed out already, 
this narrative mythology of the Scyth- 
ians is of interest to us not only in itself, 
but also as a way of expressing the myth- 
ological model of the world, which is 
inherent to Scythian culture. Therefore, 
the next stage in our reconstruction 
should be the comparison of the struc- 
tures incarnated in the myths which have 
been reconstructed as described earlier, 
with st met u res revealed in another type 
of works of art. also called upon to mod- 
el the Universe. Such a comprehensive 
study of the structural configurations, 
expressed both as narrative myths and 
as symbolic non-narrative lexis" (in 
the sense attributed to this term in semi- 
otics - the science of the sign systems), 
would allow to construct a comprehen- 
sive picture of the world outlook of the 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


Scythians, which is based on mythologi- 
cal thinking. 

The interpretation of material which 
is so diverse and often fragmentary with 
the aim of reconstructing the mytholog- 
ical perceptions about the world behind 
it requires a certain caution. In order to 
avoid arbitrary interpretations, no work 
of art and no fact should be examined 
out of context and isolated from all rela- 
tions which characterize them. The re- 
construction of Scythian mythology rules 
out any "linearity", i.e. the type of re- 
search when an isolated fact serves as 
the basis for the interpretation of anoth- 
er fact, which in turn serves as the basis 
for the next interpretation. It is neces- 
sary to correlate constantly the different 
data which form the intricate network of 
arguments and rule out any arbitrari- 
ness of the proposed interpretation. This 
circumstance determines the structure 
of the present book to a certain extent. It 
is necessary to go back time and again 
to material that has already been dis- 
cussed, in order to check conclusions 
already obtained with a view to newly- 
obtained data, and to clarify how they 
agree with the proposed interpretation 
of other Scythian ancient monuments. 

Analogies should inevitably play an 
important role in this complex system of 
arguments. Naturally, however, they can- 
not be isolated and examined out of con- 
text. It is important to know where these 
analogies have been borrowed from, what 
cultural arsenal they belong to and how 
justified it is to recruit them for the in- 
terpretation of Scythian materials. In this 
connection we shall dwell on two things. 

The investigation of different myth- 
ological traditions, undertaken in recent 
years by specialists on concrete ancient 
and traditional cultures, has demonstrat- 
ed the extent to which these mytholo- 
gies arc characterized by concepts that 
are essentially globally disseminated. 
having been formed independently of 
one another within cultures that arc not 
interrelated in any way, and neverthe- 

less revealing a considerable similarity: 
the so-called mythological universalis 
These comprise, e.g., the notions about 
the structure of space, the principal ele- 
ments of the cosmological configura- 
tions, etc. Naturally, these notions have 
found their specific reflection both in 
the plot of the myth and in the varied 
symbolic codes. However, the interpre- 
tation of mythological monuments 
should take into consideration the es- 
sential unity of the semantics, especially 
in the cases when only fragmentary data 
are available, as in Scythia. 

Another way of interpreting these 
data is through information borrowed 
from traditions related to the one inves- 
tigated. The origin of mythology can be 
traced far back to the remotest antiquity, 
and the ethnic communities of a com- 
mon origin inevitably reveal elements of 
a common cultural heritage that had 
been formed in the time preceding their 
splitting. Of course, the future fate of 
that heritage differs for each ethnos, but 
the discovering of the deep, ancient com- 
mon layer helps understand the intrinsic 
semantics of many features in the cul- 
ture of each of them. Which traditions 
can be considered to be most closely 
related to the Scythian tradition, whose 
cultural heritage has a common origin 
with that of the Scythians? 

The fact that the Scythians were a 
non-literary society, which was men- 
tioned already, deprives us of the chance 
to learn something about their language. 
Nevertheless, individual words (mainly 
proper nouns) which have been pre- 
served in the foreign sources, mainly 
Greek and Latin, allow to identify the 
group to which this language belonged, 
and hence to show which ancient and 
contemporary peoples may be consid- 
ered to be particularly close to the Scyth- 
ians cthnogenctically. The studies of sev- 
eral generations of linguists have proved 
reliably that the Scythian language be- 
longed to the Eastern Iranian languages 
yvhich formed a part of the Iranian branch 



of the Indo-Iranian group of the Indo- 
European family. Incidentally, the cul- 
ture (and mythology) of the peoples be- 
longing to the Indo-Iranian group is 
known to have many common elements, 
attributed to the period of their exist- 
ence together, i.e. to the so-called Proto- 
Aryan period. Even the Indo- Aryans, on 
the one hand, and the Iranians, on the 
other, i.e. ethnic massifs which arc 
known to have been among the first to 
split, share mythological images and fig- 
ures, sometimes even bearing the same 
names, as well as identical mythological 
plots and notions. It is even more prob- 
able to discover such a common heri- 
tage in the different Indo-Iranian tradi- 
tions, to which the Scythian tradition 
belongs. Incidentally, the mythology of 
the ancient I ndo- Aryans and of the West- 
ern Iranians was much better preserved 
than Scythian mythology, their mytho- 
logical plots and the semantics of their 
images are much more familiar to us. 
Hence it is perfectly justifiable to refer to 
different Indo-Iranian traditions for the 
interpretation of the Scythian mythologi- 
cal material. It is only necessary to try not 
to substitute this material and its speci- 
ficity with data borrowed from related 
traditions, but to use precisely that mate- 
rial as the basis for the reconstruction. 

Undoubtedly, many things in such a 
reconstruction would be hypothetical. 
Specialists have different views on many 
issues. However, the broader the scope 
of data adduced, the lesser the probabil- 
ity of alternative interpretations of any 
fact, which would be equally convinc- 
ingly in agreement with the interpreta- 
tions of all other data. 

Consequently, ensuing from the 
achievements of modern research in the 
domain of the comparative investiga- 
tion of the mythological heritage of dif- 
ferent peoples and studying on this basis 
the Scythian narrative mythology in its 
entirety, as it has been reconstructed from 
fragments preserved in ancient authors, 
and from the works of art, as well as 

from monuments of a diverse nature, 
which reflect the same typically Scyth- 
ian mythological world outlook, we can 
form a sufficiently full idea about the 
mythology of these people, as a compre- 
hensive and consistent system that had 
determined Scythian culture as a whole. 
This constitutes the main objective pur- 
sued in the present book. 

i $ i 

A few words about the accumula- 
tion of the material w hich is the object 
of the present research. The first steps 
in the study of the history and culture of 
the Scythians were made exclusively on 
the basis of an analysis of the evidence 
in the ancient tradition. That was also 
the basis for the 18th century authors 
who attempted to create a generalizing 
history of the peoples inhabiting the 
present-day territories of Russia during 
the antiquity, who therefore had con- 
tacts with the Sqthians. The insuffi- 
ciently critical approach to these sourc- 
es was largely responsible for the super- 
ficial and schematic character of the con- 
structs contained in these works. With- 
out seeking the correlation between these 
and other types of data, these studies 
cannot be elevated to a new level. 

The beginning of the subsequent 
stage in the research on the Scythians 
can be dated to 1763, when the so-called 
Litoy Kurgan, containing a rich burial, 
was excavated near Elisavetgrad. This 
tumulus is sometimes called Melgunov's 
barrow after General Melgunov who was 
in charge of the excavations. Even then 
the tumulus was interpreted as contain- 
ing the burial of a rich Scythian chief- 
tain. The objects found in it, clearly bear- 
ing traces of the influence of the culture 
of the Middle East, arc dated to the early 
Scythian period, and Melgunov's bar- 
row has remained to this day one of the 
oldest rich Scythian complexes known 
to us. 

Owing to chance circumstances, a 
number of brilliant Scythian finds were 
unearthed during subsequent decades. 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


For example, in 1821 sailors working in 
a stone quarry near the town of Kerch 
(ancient Pantikapaion) came across an 
ancient tomb below a tumulus, in which 
they found different precious objects. The 
finds were given to the sea officer Patin- 
iotti, and this monument is known in 
the specialized literature under his name. 
Unfortunately, only drawings of the ob- 
jects found in the tomb have survived to 
our times, the most important among 
them being a figurine of a male Scyth- 

One of the most remarkable Scyth- 
ian burial complexes, the Kul-Oba kur- 
gan, to which we shall refer many times 
in this book, was found under similar 
circumstances again near Kerch in 1830. 
Below the tumular embankment, which 
was built in the 4th century BC, there 
was a stone tomb containing a male and 
a female burial, as well as the burial of a 
servant. The grave goods in Kul-Oba 
astonish with the abundance of precious 
objects and with their high artistic crafts- 
manship. Having fallen into the hands 
of accidental diggers, the Kul-Oba finds 
were saved in their vast majority for 
future researchers owing to the efforts of 
P.Dubrux, a famous lover and connois- 
seur of ancient Pontic monuments, who 
has investigated them with great enthu- 
siasm. The finds from this tumulus are 
kept today in the collection of the Her- 
mitage in St. Petersburg. 

Planned exploration of the tumuli 
of the Scythian aristocracy along the 
Lower Dniepr started after the middle of 
the 19th century. Thus, for example. 
A.Tereshchenko and A.Lyuchenko ex- 
cavated in 1852-1856 the Alexandropol 
Barrow (also known as Lugovaya Mogi- 
la), the largest of all known tumuli in 
Scythia. When discussing research con- 
ducted during that period, however, it is 
necessary to mention in the first place 
I.E.Zabelin, who devoted many years of 
his life to that work. In 1860 he excavat- 
ed the Krasnokut barrow, in 1861 - the 
Slonovskaya Bliznitsa barrow, in 1865 

- the Kozel tumulus, and in 1867-1868 

- the Big Tsymbalka barrow. But his 
most remarkable discovery came from 
the excavations of the Chertomlyk tu- 
mulus in 1862-1863. Below the embank- 
ment of Chertomlyk the archaeologists 
found a catacomb with a complex con- 
figuration, which was probably built in 
two stages. In fact, these were two tumu- 
li that merged after the dividing wall 
between them was destroyed. One of the 
tombs was intended for the burial of the 
king, the other one - for his wife. In 
addition to the royal burials, the tombs 
contain burials of a number of accompa- 
nying persons as well. Three smaller 
tumuli for the horses and another two 
for the grooms were localized separate- 
ly. Although the monument was partial- 
ly plundered already during the antiqui- 
ty, the grave goods in the Chertomlyk 
tomb were unusually rich and extremely 
important with a view to the topic of 
interest to us. 

Naturally, the excavations conduct- 
ed by Zabclin and his contemporaries 
may evoke a number of serious reproach- 
es from the point of view of modern 
methodology. Many specific features of 
the construction of the tombs, as well as 
details of the burial rites, proved to be 
insufficiently conscientiously studied, or 
not mentioned altogether. Besides, the 
tumular embankments have not been 
explored comprehensively. Nevertheless, 
the value of the excavated materials is 
indisputable and their importance grows 
with the years, because we acquire the 
possibility to consider these monuments 
from more and more new perspectives. 

At the end of the 19th and in the 
beginning of the 20th century a whole 
new scries of rich Scythian tumuli were 
excavated along the Dniepr river, the 
most important among them being Oguz, 
Chmyrcva barrow. Dceviy barrow, etc. 
It is also necessary to mention in this 
context the excavations conducted in 
1911-1912 by N.I.Vcssctovskiy of the 
Solokha tumulus, which equals only Kul- 



Oba and Chertomlyk in importance. Sim- 
ilar to Chertomlyk, it contained two buri- 
als, one of which - the central one - was 
actually totally plundered during the an- 
tiquity. The fully preserved lateral buri- 
al, however, has provided researchers 
with unique materials, including finds 
which are directly relevant to the topic 
of interest to us. 

It is necessary to mention specifi- 
cally the excavations of Early Scythian 
monuments along the Kuban river, no- 
tably the Kelermes and Ulskiy barrows, 
the one near Kostromskaya, etc., carried 
out in the beginning of this century. Un- 
fortunately, many of them have been ex- 
plored very carelessly from a method- 
ological point of view, as a result of 
which various valuable historical and 
historical-cultural evidence has been ir- 
retrievably lost. However, the extremely 
small number of known burials, dated to 
the early stages in Scythian history, has 
not allowed any Scythologist to ignore 
these materials. We, too, shall often re- 
fer to them. 

So far we spoke predominantly about 
burials of the higher Scythian aristocra- 
cy, i.e. the so-called royal burials. There 
are two reasons for this. First, it was 
precisely these monuments which con- 
tained materials (more specifically ob- 
jects of art) which are of interest from 
the point of view of studies on Scythian 
mythology. Second, it was again the tu- 
muli belonging to this circle which were 
excavated before the October 1917 Rev- 
olution, because there were greater 
chances of discovering precious objects 
in them than in excavations of burials of 
the middle classes and the poor Scyth- 

Nevertheless, one should not under- 
estimate the importance of research on 
the ordinary burials as well, because 
they reproduce many aspects of life in 
Scythia. Therefore, Russian archaeolo- 
gists have devoted special attention to 
them in recent years. Frontal explora- 
tion of many tombs, comprising sever- 

al dozens of barrows each, were u 
dertaken. In the course of these excav* 
tions sufficiently rich burials, contain- 
ing important materials for us, have 
been discovered. To these one should 
attribute in the first place Gaymanova 
Mogila, explored by V.I.Bidzilya in 
1969, and Tolstaya Mogila - excavated 
in 1971 by B.N.Mozolevskiy. The lat- 
ter monument deserves special atten- 
tion, because it contains unique finds 
which we shall discuss in considerable 
detail. Besides, it has been excavated at 
a rather high methodological level, 
which gives Scythologists information 
that has been hitherto inaccessible to 
them on the basis of the finds from 
other Scythian tumuli. Consequently, 
it will also be necessary to turn to the 
results of the exploration of the trench 
around this tumulus and to the rem- 
nants of a commemoration ceremony 
contained in it. 

Excavations of other famous Scyth- 
ian monuments were also conducted in 
the post-war years. Thus, for example, 
in 1954 A.I.Terenozhkin explored the 
royal tumulus near the town of Meli- 
topol, in 1959 V.P.Shilov investigated 
the Five Brothers tumular group, which 
is a part of the Elizavetinskaya necropo- 
lis along the lower Don. Interesting re- 
sults have been obtained recently in the 
work of Ukrainian archaeologists study- 
ing Chertomlyk, Oguz and other bar- 
rows, which had not been excavated com- 
pletely in the past century. 

All that field work, carried out for 
about 200 years already, guaranteed the 
accumulation of the richest collection of 
Scythian works of art in the museums of 
the former USSR, and it is practically 
impossible even to start talking about 
the mythology of the Scythians without 
having studied them in detail. Many gen- 
erations of Scythologists devoted their 
life to that research and the present book 
which is offered to the attention of the 
readers is largely based on their work. 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


The Scythian 

The pantheon of every religious- 
mythological system - the group of indi- 
vidual deities making up this system, 
organized in a concrete way - may be 
studied from different perspectives. The 
attention of researchers is most often 
attracted by the place of one figure or 
another in the hierarchy of religious wor- 
ship, the degree of the influence on the 
life of the community, attributed to it, 
the relative share of the rites, sacrifices, 
etc., connected with it, in the sum total 
of ritual acts of the community in ques- 
tion. According to these criteria, the de- 
ities arc divided into "supreme" and 
1 'secondary' \ Viewed from this perspec- 
tive, the pantheon studied is a rather 
variable and dynamic system, the posi- 
tion of any clement (i.e. deity) in it may 
change depending on the specificities of 
each stage in the history of the com- 
munity worshipping these deities: on the 
changes in the environmental conditions 
of its existence, on the relative share of 
one occupation or another in the system 
of its economic activities, or on the level 
of its social development. This panthe- 
on may also comprise new deities that 
have been borrowed from some other 
cultural tradition. With such an ap- 
proach, we obtain information not so 
much about the mythology, but rather 
more about the religion of the investi- 
gated community. 

The other approach is purely mytho- 
logical. Each deity is of interest to us for 
the element of the Universe which it 
incarnates and for its correlation with 
the other elements in the picture of the 
world. The pantheon understood in this 
sense is a stable system which models 
the structure of the Cosmos according to 
the notions of the carriers of the respec- 
tive culture. This system is connected 
most closely w ith the narrative mytholo- 
gy, because both have identical func- 
tions. The pantheon of the Scythians 
evokes interest precisely from these per- 

It would hardly have been possible 


The Scythian Pantheon 

to form a sufficiently comprehensive and 
clear notion about the Scythian panthe- 
on as an integral system based on the 
fragmentary and brief references to the 
deities worshipped by the Scythians in 
the works of the ancient authors. Fortu- 
nately, a special passage is devoted to 
this problem in the Scythian Logos of 
Herodotus (IV, 59), where evidence that 
is not known from other authors is giv- 
en. According to the Greek historian, 
the Scythians "worshipped only the fol- 
lowing gods: Hestia above all, then Zeus 
and Gaia, accepting the latter as the 
wife of Zeus, then Apollo, Aphrodite 
Urania, Ares and Herakles. These gods 
are worshipped by all Scythians, while 
the so-called Royal Scythians offered sac- 
rifices to Poseidon as well. ' 

In accordance with the prevalent tra- 
dition in the ancient world, here the 
Scythian deities appear with Greek 
names. The meaning of this identifica- 
tion is that by operating with images 
that are familiar to the Greek audience, 
the functions of the alien deities and 
their mythological essence can be made 
more accessible and understandable. 
However, Herodotus, who was very care- 
ful when describing the "barbaric cul- 
tures", did not restrict himself to such 
an identification only and cited also the 
local Scythian names of almost all dei- 
ties: "Hestia in Scythian is called Tahi- 
ti, Zeus is Papaios, perfectly correctly in 
my opinion, Gaia - Api, Apollo - Goito- 
syros, Aphrodite Urania is called Argim- 
pasa, Poseidon - Thagimasadas." This 
additional information is very important 
to us, because the ancient names of the 
gods always had a definite meaning 
which corresponded to their mythologi- 
cal nature, hence by clarifying the ety- 
mology of the theonyms it would be pos- 
sible to add substantial new data to our 
notions about Scythian mythology. Un- 
fortunately, these names - so incompre- 
hensible to the Greeks and so unusual to 
Greek ears - were often incorrectly tran- 
scribed, and subsequent scribes distort- 

ed them beyond recognition. Therefore, 
the same names look different in the 
different manuscripts of the cited work 
of Herodotus, which have survived to 
our days, not to mention other sources, 
therefore we cannot always succeed in 
deciding which form is the most correct 
one and renders more accurately the 
sounds of the Scythian names. All this 
complicates the correct identification of 
the etymology of the names. For exam- 
ple, the name of the "Scythian Apollo" 
has survived to our times not only with 
the form "Goitosyros" but also as "Oito- 
syros", for the name of the "Scythian 
Aphrodite Urania" the forms "Artim- 
pasa" and "Aripasa" coexisted with the 
more widespread form "Argimpasa", 
while the form "Thagimasadas" is a 
rather unreliable reconstruction. 

It would be extremely important to 
find out the origin of the cited passage 
in Herodotus about the Scythian panthe- 
on. Was it created by the historian him- 
self on the basis of an integral interpre- 
tation of the existing evidence that he 
himself had gathered from various plac- 
es and under different circumstances, or 
was it borrowed directly from the Scyth- 
ian environment in such a complete 
form? Some evidence allows us to give 
an answer to this question. 

The specialist on Iranian studies, 
V.I.Abacv, devoted particular attention 
to the circumstance that if one rules out 
Thagimasadas-Poscidon, who was wor- 
shipped by the Royal Scythians only, ac- 
cording to Herodotus the number of the 
deities worshipped by all Scythians was 
precisely seven. Hcptatheism was known 
to be a stable specificity of the religious 
and mythological notions of the Indo- 
Iranians. For example, such was the ini- 
tial number of the Aditi - the leading 
deities in the mythology of the ancient 
Vcdic Aryans. There is evidence that the 
Alans, one of the Iranian-speaking steppe 
peoples from the Sarmatian circle, also 
worshipped seven deities. Traces of the 
same tradition have been preserved in 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


the ethnography of the Ossetic people. 
And finally, Zoroastrianism - the reli- 
gion of the ancient Iranians, which had 
transformed substantially the original 
Indo-Iranian notions, while at the same 
time having inherited many things from 
it - involved worship of seven Amesa 
Spenta, led by the supreme deity 
Ahuramazda. Hence it may be concluded 
that the number of Scythian deities, men- 
tioned by Herodotus and reflecting the 
ancient traditions of the ethnic and cul- 
tural massif to which the Scythians be- 
longed, was not at all accidental. 

A second important specificity of 
the passage of interest to us is the cir- 
cumstance that it cites in the first place 
Tabiti - the "Scythian Hestia", In 
Greece during the classical period, Hes- 
tia was perceived mainly as the goddess 
of the hearth in the home and she did 
not play a major role in theology and 
mythology. However, a comparative-his- 
torical study of this image reveals that it 
is based on the ancient fire god of all 
Indo-Europeans, which in the mytholo- 
gy of the I ndo- Aryans is paralleled by 
the god Agni, and in the Iranian world - 
by Atar. It is important in this case that 
the Greeks identified the fire worshipped 
by the Iranians again with Hestia. The 
stable ancient Greek tradition in which 
every sacrificial rite starts and ends with 
the sacrifice to be offered to Hestia, and 
each appeal to the gods starts by men- 
tioning her name, finds a direct analogy 
in the Vedic arias: here the mentioning 
of the gods is a canonical element; even 
the Rigveda starts with a hymn to Agni 
and ends with a hymn addressed to that 
deity. It is possible to assume common 
roots of this practice also in the most 
ancient Indo-European ritual and its re- 
flection may be considered to be the plac- 
ing of Tabiti in the beginning of Herodo- 
tus' description of the Scythian pan- 

Even these two specificities of this 
description, which correlate well with 
the evidence about the different Indo- 

Iranian traditions, suggest that the struc- 
ture of the cited passage by Herodotus 
was not accidental. This allows us to see 
in it not the findings of the Greek histo- 
rian, but a sufficiently accurate repro- 
duction of some Scythian text, e.g. of a 
ritual formula pronounced during sacri- 
fices or during sacral acts. Therefore, 
attention should be paid here not only to 
each deity, considered individually, the 
meaning of his or her name and the 
significance of the identification with 
the respective Greek deity, but also the 
structure of the passage as a whole. For 
example, three "levels" can be clearly 
identified in the pantheon described by 
Herodotus: Hestia-Tabiti is worshipped 
"higher than the rest" or "above the 
rest", "besides that" or "after that" - 
Zeus and Gaia, "after them" or "lat- 
er" - the remaining four deities. It is 
interesting to trace the sequence with 
which the deities have been listed and 
their grouping at the cited levels. The 
comprehensive analysis of these features 
should give an idea about the main fig- 
ures of Scythian mythology. 

Something has been said already 
about the Scythian goddess Tabiti, who 
was ranked in first position. Specialists 
in Iranian studies have proposed a con- 
vincing etymology of her name: "warm- 
ing" or "flaming". This etymology' cor- 
relates well both with the identification 
of this deity with the Greek Hestia, and 
with her prime position in the Scythian 
pantheon, corresponding to the Indo- 
Iranian tradition. It also confirms the 
interpretation of Tabiti as a fire deity. 
The closest analogy of her name can be 
found in the name of the Old-Indie epic 
figure Tapati, the beautiful daughter of 
the Sun God, whose body was brilliant 
like fire, and who was basically a mythi- 
cal image. The same root can be traced 
in the Old-Indie concept oftapas, mean- 
ing cosmic warmth, original nature, the 
universal cosmic principle from which 
both the various elements of the Uni- 
verse and order in the world as a whole 


The Scythian Pantheon 

originate. This notion is also similar to 
the mythology of the Vedic Agni, i.e. of 
the fire which can be found simulta- 
neously in all zones of the Cosmos, per- 
meating the whole Universe, the world 
of human beings and the world of the 
gods. Fire in the ancient Iranian my- 
thology is also ubiquitous in character. 
According to the notions of the ancient 
Indo-Iranians, fire is primary and uni- 
versal, an all-encompassing element of 
the Universe. Is this not the meaning of 
the dominating position of Tahiti in the 
Scythian pantheon, where she is alone 
at the first divine level? 

Very interesting in this context is 
the story of the Roman author Pompcius 
Trogus about the dispute between Scyth- 
ians and Egyptians for the right to be 
considered the most ancient people (Jus- 
tin, II, 1). The argument of both sides in 
this dispute is the notion about the ini- 
tial time in the world: whether it was 
when fire reigned over all the Earth or 
when it was entirely flooded by water. In 
fact, the alternative here is between the 
two prime elements of Nature. In Scyth- 
ian mythology water indeed appears to 
be one of the primary elements. There- 
fore, it may be assumed that this pas- 
sage by Pompeius Trogus echoes his 
knowledge of some Scythian mythologi- 
cal concepts. This is also in confirma- 
tion of the proposed interpretation of 
Tabiti's image as an incarnation of the 
primordial element. 

This goddess has been referred to 
reliably in only one other source: in the 
description given by Herodotus of the 
war between Scythians and Persians (IV. 
127). The Scythian king Idanthyrsos. 
outraged by Darius' claims to call him- 
self his master, replied to him angrily: 
'T recognize as my masters only Zeus, 
my progenitor, and Hestia - the Queen 
of the Scythians." The Scythian Zcus- 
Papaios was indeed worshipped as the 
progenitor of the dynasty of the Scyth- 
ian kings. But what is the meaning of 
the qualification of Tahiti -Hestia as the 

"Queen of the Scythians"? Does this 
simply reflect her supremacy over the 
remaining Scythian gods, a higher posi- 
tion in the Scythian pantheon or some 
specific link of that figure with the insti- 
tution of the royal power? Evidence in 
support of the last hypothesis seems to 
be contained in another passage in 
Herodotus (IV, 68): when Scythians pro- 
nounce their most solemn oath, they 
swear in the royal Hestia: a false oath of 
this kind inflicted a grave illness on the 
Scythian king. The difficulty in the in- 
terpretation of this information stems 
from the fact that in Greek the word 
hestia means at the same time "hearth" 
and the name of the goddess. From the 
text of Herodotus it is impossible to clar- 
ify unambiguously whether the oath in 
question was before the royal hearths 
(which is the most common translation 
of this passage) or before that goddess 
whose image we arc analysing here. The 
choice between the different interpreta- 
tions depends on the understanding of 
the general mythological context, but 
each interpretation should also explain 
the mysterious plurality of the "royal 
Hestia". Further below, we shall return 
to the explanation of all these features. 

Another interesting specificity of the 
Scythian fire deity is that it appears in a 
female hypostasis, while in the other 
Indo-Iranian traditions the fire god is, 
as a rule, a male figure. On the other 
hand, in Greek and Roman mythology 
this deity has a female image (the god- 
dess Hestia-Vcsta), whose direct influ- 
ence on Scythia is highly unlikely. The 
female nature of Tahiti is most frequent- 
ly explained by the presence of some 
anachronisms from the earlier matriar- 
chatc. although such an explanation is 
hardly satisfactory in the light of the 
latest studies on the social history and 
culture of the early communities; no di- 
rect dependence is observed between the 
social organization of the community 
and the relative share of the male and 
female images in its mythology. At this 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


stage it is not possible to explain con- 
vincingly the origin of the cited pecu- 
liarity of the Scythian pantheon. 

The marital couple Zeus-Papaios 
and Gaia-Api represents the second 
"level" of the Scythian deities. Herodo- 
tus accompanies the information about 
the Scythian name of the first of them 
with the rather enigmatic comment that 
he is called Papaios "perfectly correct- 
ly, in my opinion." How can one inter- 
pret such an evaluation of the alien name, 
in a foreign language and hence incom- 
prehensible? Most scholars believe that 
Herodotus perceived in it a similarity 
with the word papa (father), which was 
used in the Greek language as well, and 
noted that this name fully corresponded 
to the function of that deity in Scythian 
mythology, where he indeed played the 
role of the progenitor of the other deities 
and of the entire Scythian ethnos. As 
regards the Scythian meaning of the 
name Papaios, the opinions of special- 
ists diverge: some interpret it as mean- 
ing "father", others attribute it to the 
Iranian term meaning "guardian" or 
"protector". The existing evidence pre- 
vents any preference to be given to one 
interpretation or another. 

Herodotus compares the wife of Pa- 
paios with the Greek Gaia, i.e. with the 
Earth goddess as an element that gener- 
ates everything. However, the name of 
that goddess - Api - stems most prob- 
ably from the Iranian word meaning 
"water" and at a first glance it does not 
correspond fully to Herodotus' identifi- 
cation. However, this controversy is only 
ostensible. In different ancient cosmolo- 
gies Earth and water are actually two 
substances of the same element which 
incarnates the lower zone of the Uni- 
verse, the birth-giving chthonic principle. 
Such a biunity is also characteristic of 
the goddesses of ancient Iran. In the 
next chapter we shall see that Scythian 
tradition depicted the mythical progeni- 
tress precisely in the same way, i.e. as an 
aqueous-terrestrial deity. 

Such an interpretation of the nature 
of the goddess Api sheds light on the 
meaning of the image of her divine hus- 
band as well. The ancient motif of the 
marriage between Heaven and Earth as 
an act that marks the beginning of the 
Universe persists in the mythologies of 
different Indo-European peoples. More 
specifically, such is the mythology of 
the Greek Gaia whose marriage to Ura- 
nos (heaven) gave birth to different ele- 
ments of the Universe and to the deities 
belonging to the younger generation. The 
husband of the "Scythian Gaia", Papa- 
ios. was probably perceived as the incar- 
nation of Heaven. Indeed, Herodotus 
identifies him with Zeus and not with 
Uranos, but this is a perfectly natural 
substitution for the Greek mythological 
understanding of the world during the 
classical period. It was prompted by the 
highest position which Zeus occupied in 
the hierarchy of the Greek gods. A di- 
rect parallel of such an interpretation 
can also be found in another passage by 
Herodotus: in describing the religion of 
the Persians, the historian also stressed 
the resemblance between their supreme 
deity and the Olympic Zeus, noting more- 
over that they used the name Zeus to 
denote the entire firmament. 

Hence, the married couple Heaven 
and Earth (water) marks the second lev- 
el of the Scythian pantheon. The evi- 
dence of the different Indo-European tra- 
ditions suggests that they were perceived 
as existing initially in an indissoluble 
unity, then they were divided by the 
"middle world" born from their union, 
i.e. the air space, the zone inhabited by 
man and by all other mortal and materi- 
al creatures. This marked the end of the 
process of cosmogencsis, of the creation 
of an ordered Universe, consisting of 
three spatial zones situated one above 
the other. 

Examining the description which 
Herodotus gives of the Scythian panthe- 
on through the prism of such cosmogon- 
ic notions, we see that each "level" in 


The Scythian Pantheon 

this pantheon corresponds to a concrete 
stage in the creation of the Universe: at 
first only the primordial fire existed, be- 
ing identical to the cosmic warmth of the 
Vedic mythology; after it - and probably 
from it - sprang Heaven and Earth (wa- 
ter), initially bound together in marriage 
that had to be destroyed subsequently 
when the "middle world" was created. 
Such an interpretation allows to assume 
that the Scythian deities from the third 
"level" should be associated precisely 
with that world, which is the product of 
the last stage of cosmogenesis. To what 
extent can one find confirmation for this 
assumption in the concrete evidence about 
these deities? 

Above all, it is interesting to note 
the number of deities at the third level - 
four, as we have seen already. Inciden- 
tally, the terrestrial, i.e. the material 
world is usually presented in the various 
mythological traditions as being quadran- 
gular and having four sides. The notion 
of the four sides of the world, of the four 
radial coordinates as a structural char- 
acteristic of space, is a mandatory fea- 
ture of all ancient cosmologies and mod- 
ern geography has inherited it from them. 
The manifestations of that notion in 
Scythian culture will be discussed in the 
next chapters of the book. 

Each of the four sides of the world 
has its symbols in the mythological pic- 
ture of the Universe. For example, in 
many traditions it is correlated with some 
deity: the Old-Indie Lokapalas - the 
guardian gods of the directions of the 
horizon, who were initially only four in 
number. The semantics of each of the 
deities belonging to the Lokapali was 
very complex: they had their "spheres 
of action", in addition to the quadripar- 
tite structure of interest to us. For exam- 
ple, the guardian of the South, Yama, 
was the ruler over the world of the dead 
ancestors; the guardian of the East, In- 
dra, was the king of the gods and the 
incarnation of the "middle world" as a 
whole. However, in their aggregate, they 

were precisely an incarnation of the 
quadrilateral space of the middle cos- 
mic zone. 

Let us see now whether the link of 
the four Scythian deities from the third 
"level" can be felt. This link is most 
clearly manifested in the data on the 
"Scythian Ares" that have survived to 
our days. Herodotus does not mention 
his local name, which makes the inter- 
pretation of this image rather difficult. 
To compensate for this omission, he 
gives a detailed description of the rites 
connected with the worshipping of that 
deity, which is a unique case in the in- 
formation about the Scythians that can 
be found in the ancient tradition. Ac- 
cording to Herodotus (IV, 62), in each 
area of Scythia dry branches and twigs 
were used to build an enormous sacrifi- 
cial place with a quadrangular platform 
on top, which was accessible from only 
one side, the other three sides being ver- 
tical. An ancient iron sword - akinakes 
(Fig. 1) - was thrust in the middle of 
that platform and served as the incarna- 
tion or image of that deity. Scythians 
offered each hundredth captive soldier 
as a sacrifice to this sword, pouring his 
blood over the worshipped sword and 
throwing high into the air his right arm, 
severed together with the shoulder. 

The worshipping of the "Scythian 
Ares", as it appears from the cited de- 
scription, betrays the dual nature of that 
deity. On the one hand, the blood sacri- 
fices of captives and the fact that the 
god himself was rendered as a sword, 
indisputably suggest that this was a mil- 
itary deity, hence it is no accident that 
Herodotus identified him with the Greek 
Ares and later authors with Mars, Trac- 
es of this Scythian cult were preserved 
for a long time in the folklore of the 
Iranian-speaking peoples of Eastern Eu- 
rope. One of the main characters in the 
Ossetic Nartic epos is the brave but rather 
unbridled warrior Batraz, who acted 
many times as a protector of his compa- 
triots from various enemies. He was 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


Fig. L Scythian sword (akinakes) 

made of hardened steel and was most 
closely bound to his sword: he was im- 
mortal until his sword was unbroken. 
This has led researchers to the logical 
conclusion that in the concrete case the 
sword was nothing but the incarnation 
of the hero himself There is an opinion 
that both the Scythian Ares and the Os- 
setic Batraz were identical to the an- 
cient Iranian war-god Vrtragna. 

On the other hand, the quadrangu- 
lar shape of the sacrificial altar of this 
Scythian deity, taken by itself, is directly 
related to the quadrilateral structure of 
space characterized above, whereas the 
sword thrust into the centre of this sacri- 
ficial altar was one of the incarnations 
of the world's axis which models the 
vertical structure of the Universe and 
links its three zones. In this way, the 
altar of the "Scythian Ares" is simply a 
model of the Universe, moreover pre- 
dominantly of its middle zone - the air 
space. Apparently, the way in which sac- 
rifices were offered to that deity - by 
throwing severed arms high into the air 

- was also connected with that function 
of the god. 

The "successor" of the Scythian god 

- the Ossetic Batraz - also inhabited the 
air space and often acquired the image of 
the devastating whirlwind. And finally, 
we shall adduce here the evidence of the 
Greek author Lukianos, who was well 
familiar with the realia of Scythian cul- 
ture and probably had first-hand knowl- 
edge of many motifs of Scythian folklore. 
In one of his works devoted to Scythian 
themes (Toxaris, 38) he reports that the 
Scythians worshipped the Wind and the 
Sword as gods. Indeed, these images seem 
to be opposed: the first one is a source of 
life, while the second one brings death. 
However, the very fact of their juxtapos- 
ing was hardly accidental. It suggests rath- 

er that this passage reflects a certain am- 
bivalence of the unified Scythian image. 
What is more, researchers have drawn 
attention to the fact that the actual shap- 
ing of the tip and of the hilt of the ancient 
sword definitely resembles a phallus. 
Thus, this lethal weapon simultaneously 
acquires the form of a life-giving organ, 
which is an illustration of the discussed 

Consequently, the analysis of the 
first of the deities of the Scythian tetrad 
from the lower level of the pantheon 
seems to confirm his specific links with 
the middle zone of the Cosmos. 

Let us consider now the image of the 
goddess identified by Herodotus with Aph- 
rodite Urania. As was mentioned already, 
her Scythian name is given different ren- 
derings in the sources. The most wide- 
spread form is ^Argimpasa" and then 
the etymology of that name is unclear. 
However, if we prefer the form "Artim- 
pasa" (incidentally, it has been attested 
not only in manuscripts but on lapidary 
inscriptions as well), the first part of that 
theonym would prove to be identical to 
the name of the ancient Iranian deity Arti 
(later form Asi). This is the only instance 
of coincidence between the name of the 
Scythian deity and a character from an- 
other tradition using the Iranian language. 
Arti incarnates the material wealth that 
is accessible to people in its various man- 
ifestations: from the flocks and herds of 
domestic animals through various pre- 
cious objects to abundant progeny. As a 
whole, the name Artimpasa is interpret- 
ed as someone L 'looking after Arti." The 
goddess grants material wealth and wel- 
fare. In this context it is quite under- 
standable that the goddess was associated 
with the Greek Aphrodite Urania - the 
divine patron of the generating forces in 
the material world. 


The Scythian Pantheon 

At a first glance, this interpretation 
of the Scythian goddess clashes with the 
evidence of the ancient authors (Herodo- 
tus, IV, 67; Pseudo-Hippokrates, De 
aere, 30) about her enarees, i.e. people 
who have lost their manhood but have 
received a prophetic talent in exchange. 
The emphasized sterility of these people 
seems to correlate poorly with the inter- 
pretation of their protecting goddess, who 
is connected explicitly with the life-giv- 
ing beginning. However, Herodotus (I, 
105) explains that the "woman's dis- 
ease" was sent by Aphrodite Urania as 
a punishment to those Scythians who 
plundered her temple in Askalon during 
their marches into Western Asia. The 
belief of the Scythians in the "divine 
origin" of that disease is mentioned in 
Pseudo-Hippokrates as well. Thus, the 
story about the enarees only confirms 
the interpretation cited above: this dis- 
ease was perceived by the Scythians as a 
form of expiation of the sacrilege and it 
affected precisely that sphere for which 
the offended goddess was responsible. 

The markedly corporal and material 
nature of the functions of the Scythian 
Artimpasa correlates well with her place 
in the divine tetrad - the middle world. 

Very little is known about the third 
deity in this group, the "Scythian Apol- 
lo' '. As was pointed out already, his name 
was rendered differently in the various 
manuscripts and it lacked a universally 
accepted and convincing etymology, only 
in its second part the Iranian sura, mean- 
ing "powerful", is identifiable with a 
greater or lesser degree of certainty. There 
is also very little information in the iden- 
tification of that deity with Apollo in view 
of the extreme polyfiinctionality and com- 
plexity of the Greek god. The most fre- 
quent assumptions are about his solar 
nature and more specifically about his 
identification with the Iranian Mithras; 
but this is only a hypothesis, which is not 
based on extensive argumentation and is 
not subjected to verification from differ- 
ent perspectives, due to scanty evidence. 

Even less information can be gleaned 
from the description given by Herodotus 
of the last deity in the Scythian pantheon, 
because the historian - as in the case with 
"Ares" - has not even mentioned the 
Scythian name of that deity, simply refer- 
ring to him as "Herakles". The image of 
this hero in the Greek tradition is so di- 
verse and complex that it is absolutely 
impossible to reconstruct the nature of the 
Scythian deity identified with it on that 
basis. However, here we are aided by an- 
other source: the Scythian myth with "Her- 
akles" as one of the leading dramatis per- 
son ae, which has been narrated in suffi- 
cient detail by the ancient authors. Before 
starting to analyse it, it is necessary to 
devote some attention to the deity men- 
tioned by Herodotus at the end of his de- 
scription of the Scythian pantheon, identi- 
fying him with the Greek Poseidon. 

This character is apparently far from 
Herodotus' description: he transcends the 
structure of heptathcism which is tradi- 
tional for the Indo-Iranians, moreover - 
according to the evidence given by Herodo- 
tus himself - he was not a Pan-Scythian 
deity, being worshipped only by the so- 
called "Royal" Scythians. Apparently, this 
was only a tribal deity and the Scythians 
probably had many of this type, but due to 
the dominant position of the tribe wor- 
shipping him, this tribal cult acquired suf- 
ficient weight and hence attracted the at- 
tention of the Greek historian. 

The name of this Scythian deity is 
not reliably attested and this complicates 
the determination of its etymology. We 
can try to throw light on the nature of the 
image only through the identification with 
Poseidon, proposed by Herodotus, The 
Greek Poseidon is known predominantly 
as the god of the sea. A number of re- 
searchers propose precisely that key for 
interpreting the Scythian Thagimasadas 
as well: what is more, he also is identi- 
fied with Achilles Pontarches, i.e. with 
Achilles, the ruler over the Pontos, who 
was worshipped along the Northern Pon- 
tic coasts. However, the cult of Achilles 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


F*g. 2 >4 winged horse. Gold applique 
from Kul-Oba 

Pontarches emerged only around the 2nd 
century and spread mainly among the 
Pontic Greeks, and not among the in- 
digenous tribes, as attested in the epi- 
graphic sources. Besides, it may be as- 
sumed that the sea element did not play 
a major role in the life and mythology of 
the nomadic Scythians, hence apparent- 
ly Herodotus 1 identification is based on 
some other aspect of the Greek Posei- 
don: his connection with horses and his 
function as patron saint of horse-breed- 
ing (Poseidon Hippios, i.e. equine). It is 
also relevant to recall here that in Ath- 
ens, to whose citizens Herodotus ad- 
dressed his work, the image of Poseidon 
merged with the image of Erichthonius, 
the mythical progenitor of the Athenians. 
In the light of all this it may be 
assumed that Thagimasadas, who was 
worshipped by the "Royal" Scythians, 
was their mythical progenitor, who prob- 
ably repeated some features of the Pan- 
Scythian progenitor. However, the fu- 
sion between the two images is not com- 
plete, due to the social specificities of 
that Scythian tribe. The actual way of 
life of the "Royal" Scythians, which 
was closely connected with horse-breed- 
ing, and the notions of the Scythians 
about water as the element from which 

% mmm 

they originated, has attributed a number 
of features to that image in Scythian my- 
thology, which have given grounds to 
Herodotus to identify him with the Greek 
Poseidon, predominantly in his Athenian 
variant. There are hypotheses that the my- 
thology of that Scythian deity is associated 
with the popular images of a winged horse 
on Scythian monuments (Fig. 2), based 
on the Greek iconography of Pegasus - 
the mythical son of Poseidon and Medusa 
- as well as the hippocampus: half horse, 
half sea monster. In principle, this hy- 
pothesis is completely true, but bearing in 
mind that Thagimasadas himself was to a 
certain extent an autonomous image in 
the Pan-Scythian religious and mythologi- 
cal system, partly overlapping with other 
images, one should not rule out the cir- 
cumstance that the same images received 
simultaneously another interpretation 
which was more organic to the system of 
the Scythian environment. 

In order to present the discussed sys- 
tem sufficiently completely, we shall turn 
now to the myth in which many of the 
already familiar images are linked to- 
gether in a more elaborate plot. The anal- 
ysis of that plot will help us clarify the 
extent to which the interpretations pro- 
posed in this chapter are feasible. 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

The Scythian 

The myth Avhich will be discussed 
in this chapter is often referred to by 
researchers as the legend about the ori- 
gin of the Scythians. In fact, the ancient 
authors who have preserved this story 
for us were interested above all in one 
of its aspects: the genealogy of the kings 
of Scythia and of its people as a whole. 
However, the careful analysis reveals 
that the content of this "legend' ' is 
considerably broader, because actually 
this is not even a myth, but a whole 
mythological cycle centered around the 
mythical genealogy of the Scythians. 
Around that genealogy are grouped in 
fact all themes from Scythian mytholo- 
gy known to us, all the more that they 
have come to us in several variants that 
are independent of one another. Judg- 
ing by the detailed knowledge of the 
ancient authors about this mythological 
cycle, it must have been very popular 
among the population of the Northern 
Pontic regions - both among the indig- 
enous population and among the Greek 
colonists - and it played an important 
role in the ideology of Scythian society. 
For the sake of simplicity, further be- 
low we shall refer to this cycle as gene- 
alogical myth. 

It may be assumed that the Greeks 
became familiar with that myth already 
during the early days of their penetra- 
tion along the Northern Pontic coast. 
Even Alcman. a Greek lyric poet of the 
second half of the 7th century BC, knew 
the names of some of the characters in 
that myth, although the context of their 
mentioning there did not allow the re- 
construction of any stories connected 
with these figures. There is a hypothe- 
sis that Aristeas of Prokoncssos (7th 
century BC) was the first author to ac- 
quaint the Greek audience with that 
myth, because - according to the leg- 
end - he travelled to distant lands in 
Eurasia and narrated about them in his 
poem about the Arimaspeans. The ear- 
liest version of this myth, which has 
survived to our days, belonged to 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


Herodotus, who even wrote it down in 
two variants. 

The first version of Herodotus (IV, 
5-6), which according to the historian 
was widespread among the Scythians, 
gives the following account of their ori- 
gin. The first man, called Targitaos, 
was born in their land, which at that 
time was still like a desert. According 
to Scythian notions, his parents were 
Zeus and the daughter of the Borys- 
thenes river (pres. Dniepr). The three 
sons of Targitaos - Lipoxais, Arpoxais 
and Kolaxais - became the progenitors 
of the three big Scythian families. The 
brothers had to pass the ordeals sent to 
them by the gods: gold objects fell from 
heaven in front of them: a plough with 
a yoke, an axe and a cup. The sons of 
Targitaos tried to pick them up, but the 
gold flared in flames when the first two 
brothers approached, whereas when the 
youngest brother, Kolaxais, approached, 
the flames died down. Taking this to be 
an omen, the two older brothers recog- 
nized the predominance of Kolaxais and 
he became the progenitor of the Scyth- 
ian kings. 

The second variant of the myth nar- 
rated by Herodotus (IV, 8-10) spread - 
according to him - not among the Scyth- 
ians, but among the Greeks living along 
the Pontic coasts. In that story, the Greek 
hero Herakles, after one of his famous 
Labours, the stealing of the Oxen of 
Geryon, came to Scythia, which was 
uninhabited at that time. The tired hero 
wrapped himself in the lion's skin and 
fell asleep. While he slept, his horses 
disappeared. When Herakles woke up, 
he started looking for the horses and 
came to a woody place called Hylaia 
near the lower course of the Dniepr- 
Borysthenes. Here he noticed a cave in 
which a strange creature lived: a wom- 
an with a snake-like lower part of the 
body. She admitted to Herakles that she 
had the horses and agreed to give them 
back only if the hero married her. Three 
sons were born from that marriage. On 

leaving Scythia, Herakles left his bow 
and his warrior's belt to his wife, telling 
her that she was to put their sons to the 
following test when they grew up: they 
had to pull the string of that bow and to 
put the belt around their waist. Whoever 
fulfilled the task was to become the king 
of his mother's land, while the other two 
brothers had to be exiled. Only the 
youngest son, Skythes, succeeded and 
Scythian kings derive his name and ge- 
nealogy from him. The elder brothers, 
Agathyrsos and Gelonos, who were ban- 
ished from the land, became the progen- 
itors and gave their names to the peo- 
ples living to the north of Scythia. 

How trust worthy was the claim of 
Herodotus that the myth in question was 
Greek and not Scythian? Naturally, the 
fact that its main character was a popu- 
lar figure in Greek mythology testifies 
to a certain processing of the myth in a 
Greek environment; events have even 
been incorporated in the general texture 
of his mythical biography. We are yet to 
discover other traces of this processing 
in Herodotus' story. However, it is hard- 
ly accidental that we came across this 
hero already when we analysed the Scyth- 
ian pantheon. Perhaps this is an illustra- 
tion of the identification between the 
local and the Greek image with the aim 
of making the essence of that image more 
comprehensible to the Greek audience? 
Such an assumption is all the more plau- 
sible bearing in mind that the actual 
theme of the myth finds exact parallels 
in the folklore of Iranian-speaking peo- 
ples, e.g. in Firdoussi's famous epopee 
Shahname* which is known to have ac- 
cepted many epic and mythological mo- 
tifs from the ancient Iranians. More spe- 
cifically, we find there the story about 
the journey of the hero Rostcm, who was 
looking for the lost horse, about his mar- 
riage to Queen Tehmine, who had sto- 
len the horse, and about the birth of 
their son. Indeed, this narrative is de- 
prived of any fantastic details which can 
be found in the myth narrated bv Herodo- 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

tus, but the coincidences in the structur- 
ing of the story are so great that they 
suggest that Herodotus' second version 
was created in a Scythian environment. 

Incidentally, there is one thing about 
which Herodotus was indisputably right: 
in this processed form, this Scythian 
myth became very popular among the 
Greeks as well. This is confirmed, for 
example, by the text of a Greek inscrip- 
tion of an unknown origin, which tells 
about the Labours of Herakles (IG XIX, 
1293 A). The inscription comprises the 
following episode: the hero comes from 
Thrace into Scythia, where he defeats 
Araxes in combat and marries his daugh- 
ter Echidna. Here the two principal char- 
acters have been identified with figures 
from Greek mythology. Only the local 
name of the heroine's father - Araxes - 
has been preserved. This is known to 
have been the name of one of the rivers 
in the Eurasian steppe belt during antiq- 
uity. Sometimes the ancient Araxes is 
identified with the present-day Volga, 
on other occasions - with Amu-Darya. 
Even at that time it was the name of a 
river in the Trans-Caucasian region as 
well, and the name has been preserved 
to this day. Most probably this was a 
''vagrant hydronynV': precisely due to 
its important role in Scythian mytholo- 
gy, the name could be used to designate 
different rivers in the zone inhabited by 
these people. In the variant of the Scyth- 
ian myth under consideration, Araxes 
was beyond any doubt a river (water) 

The river Araxes also occurs in the 
version of the Scythian genealogical myth 
narrated by Diodorus (II, 43), although 
there the river does not appear in a myth- 
ological context at all. Generally speak- 
ing, the composition of the version is 
rather original. The Greek historian 
starts his narrative by telling the early 
history of the Scythians, and this is a 
perfectly realistic presentation, totally 
devoid of any mythological element. 
Many things there coincide with the sto- 

ry of Herodotus (IV, 11-12) about the 
same events; nevertheless, there is no 
complete identity, which suggests that 
the two cited authors used different sourc- 
es. According to Diodorus, the Scyth- 
ians lived initially along the Araxes riv- 
er, they were not numerous and were 
weak in military terms; later they grew 
stronger, conquered new lands and mi- 
grated to the Caucasus and the river 
Tanai's (pres. Don). And it is precisely 
here that the already familiar mytholog- 
ical motif intrudes in the narrative; the 
earth-born maiden with a snake-like low- 
er part of her body, who appeared at that 
time among the Scythians, married Zeus 
and a son called Scythes was born of 
that marriage, later to become the king 
of a people that assumed his name. The 
two brothers Palos and Napes, who be- 
came the progenitors of two branches of 
the Scythian people and gave them their 
names, stood out with their valour among 
the progeny of that king. Under the reign 
of their successors, the Scythians con- 
quered the entire Pontic region and or- 
ganized the known campaigns to West- 
ern Asia. Here we shall analyse the myth- 
ological content of the story told by Di- 
odorus, together with the data from 
other versions of the genealogical myth. 
And finally, it is necessary to men- 
tion yet another source that has pre- 
served the echo of that myth: Argonau- 
t'tca by the 1 st century Latin poet Valeri- 
us Flaccus. The poem does not contain a 
consistent story: its entire plot is subor- 
dinated to the narrative of the events 
connected with the voyage of Jason and 
his companions. However, among these 
events there is a description of the war 
between the king of Colchis, Eetion, and 
his brother Perscs, and Flaccus includes 
among the participants in this war al- 
most all people of the oecumene known 
to the ancient world, or at least to its 
northern part. The poet mentions each 
of these peoples or their leaders together 
with a number of ethnographic or myth- 
ological details borrowed from the an- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


cient literature. Among the participants 
in this battle we also discover figures 
known to us from the versions of the 
Scythian genealogical myth, cited earli- 
er (IV, 48-68). Thus, his poem also fea- 
tures Colax - indisputably identical to 
Kolaxais from the first version of 
Herodotus - the chieftain "with the di- 
vine blood", born from Jupiter and the 
nymph with the half-animal body living 
along the Scythian coasts. The name of 
Auchus, who acted side by side with 
Kolaxais, recalls the name of the Scyth- 
ian clan of the Auchatai, who originated 
from his brother Lipoxais. Moreover, the 
correlation between the name of the 
character in Argonautica reflects the 
laws in the Scythian language. As 
E.A.Grantovskiy has pointed out, many 
details in Flaccus' text add to and speci- 
fy data from other sources and monu- 
ments in which the Scythian myth has 
been preserved; consequently, the poet 
had access to sources that have not sur- 
vived to our days. Thus, for example, 
the description of Auchus contains de- 
tails that cast a light on the mythologi- 
cal nature of that image, which will be 
discussed later. The poem of Flaccus 
reveals other motifs that can be traced 
back to the Scythian myth, which arc 
very important to us (IV, 638-640). 

Ancient literature has preserved to 
our days several variants of the Scythian 
genealogical myth, partly repeating and 
partly complementing one another. In 
many cases it is possible to assume that 
the original content of the myth was 
somewhat distorted when it was repro- 
duced by an author belonging to a dif- 
ferent culture. Therefore, in order to re- 
construct the myth of interest to us in its 
complete and reliable form, and in order 
to clarify its semantics, it is necessary to 
make a parallel analysis of the versions 
known to us by comparing all reflec- 
tions of all of the motifs making this 
myth up. 

We shall start with the figures at the 
basis of the Scythian genealogical tree. 

The first versions in Herodotus and in 
Diodorus cite Zeus, paralleled by Jupiter 
in Valerius Flaccus. Naturally, this sub- 
stitution of the names from Greek or 
Roman mythology results from the Greek 
interpretation of the Scythian theme. 
Here the content of the myth corresponds 
to the notion about Zeus as the progeni- 
tor of the kings of Scythia, which was 
reflected in the story by Herodotus, re- 
ferred to earlier, about the answer given 
by King Idanthyrsos to King Darius. 
There is no doubt that all these texts 
actually refer to the same deity, Zeus- 
Papaios, whom we met already at the 
second "level" of the Scythian pan- 

No such figure is mentioned in the 
most Hellenized versions of the Scyth- 
ian myth - the second version of Herodo- 
tus and the epigraphic version - because 
there the genealogy starts with Herak- 
les. However, every Greek knew very 
well that Hcrakles was the son of Zeus; 
consequently, this seems to imply the 
presence of the principal male deity as 
the progenitor of the people whose ori- 
gin is traced in the narrated myth. Ac- 
cording to B.N.Grakov's comment, pre- 
cisely the similarity in the "genealogy" 
was among the main reasons for identi- 
fying the figure in the Scythian myth 
with Herakles. 

The wife of the god-progenitor has 
been given different characteristics in 
the different versions of the Scythian 
myth. The first version by Herodotus 
mentions only that she was the daughter 
of the river Borysthenes, hence she was 
related to the water element. Diodorus 
refers to her as the virgin born from the 
Earth, noting the snake-like lower part 
of her body. Apparently, this is what 
Valerius Flaccus had in mind when he 
mentioned the "half-animal body' 5 of 
the nymph-progenitress. The snake sym- 
bolizes the Earth, the chthonic life-giv- 
ing clement, in the mythological tradi- 
tions of various peoples and ethnic com- 
munities. Probably this aspect of the her- 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

oine of the myth was reflected in the 
identification which Valerius Flaccus 
made between the mother of Colax and 
Hore - one of the three Greek goddesses 
of the fertile forces in Nature. Conse- 
quently, according to the preserved ver- 
sions of the Scythian myth, the wife of 
the supreme deity is either water or Earth. 
It should be recalled at this stage that we 
also came to such a dual interpretation 
of the image of the wife of Zeus-Papa- 
ios, when we analysed the Scythian pan- 
theon described by Herodotus. In this 
way, all available sources are in full 
agreement and allow to place the couple 
Papaios-Api. i.e. Heaven and Earth (Wa- 
ter), at the foundation of Scythian myth- 
ical genealogy. 

Excavations of Scythian tumuli have 
revealed on many occasions female im- 
ages with completely anthropomorphic 
upper part of the body, whose lower part 
is rendered as an elaborate palmette 
(Fig. 3). The end boughs of that pal- 
mette often resemble snakes or dragon- 
like creatures, the middle part being of a 
more floral nature. Scholars are remark- 
ably unanimous in their interpretation 
of these images as representing the same 
wt snake-legged goddess' ' - the progeni- 
tress of the Scythians - about whom the 
analysed myth narrates. The combina- 
tion of snake-like and floral ornamenta- 
tion in the palmette reflects simulta- 
neously the link of that figure with the 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


chthonic principle, representing the 
Earth's life-giving forces. The image 
found in the Kul-Oba tumulus (Fig. 4) 
is of particular interest: in addition to 
the snake-like palmette described, here 
there are two snakes that seem to grow 
out of the shoulders of the goddess. This 
detail is directly relevant to the descrip- 
tion given by Valerius Flaccus, who men- 
tions not only the nymph's "half-ani- 
mal body", but some "two snakes" as 
well. Images with snakes growing out of 
their shoulders are well known in the 
Iranian mythical and epic tradition. Such 
is, for example, the villain Zohak in 
Shahname - a late hypostasis of the 
mythological chthonic monster Aidahak. 

The iconographic basis of all imag- 
es of the Scythian "snake-legged god- 
dess" was the image of some chthonic 
creature that took shape in Greek art. 
However, along the Northern Pontic 
coasts that image was adapted to per- 
sonify an exclusively indigenous mythi- 
cal character, and it was as such that it 
became extremely popular in Scythia. 

This marriage between Heaven and 
Earth gave birth to a character that was 
essentially the principal figure in the 
Scythian genealogical myth. In Herodo- 
tus' first version he was called Targi- 
taos. The information about him con- 
tained in that source is reduced to his 
being the first man, the progenitor of 
the Scythians and of their kings. Basi- 

Fig. 3. The "snake-legged goddess". 

Gold applique from Kul-Oba 
Fig. 4. The "srtake-legged goddess". 

A horse's head-piece from 

Bolshalya Tsymhalka 
Fig. 5. Herakles. Gold applique from 

a horse bridle. Chmyreva 


cally, the same can be said about Skythes 
in the version of the myth given by Di- 
odorus: although this person seemed to 
appear "in the middle" of Scythian his- 
tory, and not at all in its beginning, he 
was the direct descendant of the gods 
and had no genealogical links with the 
earlier generations; these generations 
seem to have been ignored with such a 
composition of the myth, they prove to 
be unconnected with the contemporary 
Scuhia, with its people and kings. 

V.I.Abaev has proposed an Iranian 
etymology of the name of that character 
in Herodotus' first version: Targitaos - 
darga-tawa "with long power". Such a 
name suits perfectly the mythological 
hero, who has been credited - as we 
shall see below - with numerous heroic 
deeds; however, it sheds no additional 
light on the mythological essence of his 
image. In Diodorus the identical hero is 
the eponym of the people originating 
from him. Such a name could have been 
given to him even in the Scythian tradi- 
tion proper, but it could also have been 
substituted by the Greek authors: the 
real name of the hero meant nothing to 
the Greek audience and they substituted 
it with the name of the people stemming 
from him. 

In the Hcllcnizcd versions of the myth 
- the second version of Herodotus and 
the cpigraphic one - this is the figure to 
which Herakles corresponds (Fig. 5). 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

•<■*•* ^ 

Fig. 6. The fight of a Scythian against 

a chthonic monster. Plaque 

from a comb. Bone. 

Gaymanova barrow 
Fig. 7. Female chthonic deity. 

Plaque from a comb. Bone. 

Gaymanova barrow 

Similar to Targitaos-Skythes, he was the 
progenitor of the people and of the kings 
whose descendants started the different 
"clans" of the Scythians. It is particular- 
ly important for us that this hero, as we 
saw in the previous chapter, was the Greek 
equivalent of one of the deities at the 
third "levd" of the Scythian pantheon. 
If Herakles, the deity in the pantheon, is 
identical to Herakles, the hero in the ge- 
nealogical myth, which seems to be the 
most plausible hypothesis, we receive ad- 
ditional confirmation that the proposed 
interpretation of the structure of the Scyth- 
ian pantheon is logical. In mythological 
cosmogony, as it has taken shape in the 
Scythian myth, the birth of the first man 
from the marriage of Heaven and Earth 
was essentially identical to the act result- 
ing in the creation of the "middle world", 
i.e. the zone inhabited by people. The 
first man himself is the incarnation of the 
world emerging between Heaven and 
Earth, he is the third element in the di- 
vine triad modelling the tripartite Cos- 
mos. This is why, Herakles-Targitaos 
proved to be included in the Scythian 
pantheon, side by side with Zeus-Papaios 
(Heaven) and Gaia-Api (the Earth). Ear- 
lier we examined the arguments in favour 
of interpreting the Scythian deities from 
the third "level" as belonging to the 
middle cosmic zone. Such an interpreta- 
tion fully corresponds to the proposed 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


interpretation of the fourth deity at that 
"level", i.e. Herakles. 

Targitaos-Herakles was the first fig- 
ure in the Scythian genealogical myth 
with whom certain collisions are associ- 
ated in the preserved sources. For exam- 
ple, the epigraphic version narrates about 
his victoiy over Araxes. Judging by the 
latter' s name, which coincides - as we 
have seen - with the Scythian hydro- 
nym, this was reference to the combat 
against the incarnation of the chthonic 
elements. Similar heroic deeds are a typ- 
ical element in the biography of the 
mythical progenitor. In the different tra- 
ditions he is simultaneously a hero slay- 
ing monsters that incarnate the initial 
chaos, and he takes part in the ordering 
of the Cosmos. 

A hint at such heroic deeds is also 
contained in Herodotus' second version 
of the Scythian myth, which starts with 
the information that Herakles arrived in 
Scythia after his fight against Geryon, 
the three-headed monster associated - 
similar to Araxes - with the chthonic 
world. After the victory, the hero drove 
away his herds. Why was this motif in- 
cluded in the narrative about the pro- 
genitor of the Scythians? According to 
the Greek tradition, Geryon lived far in 
the West, on an island in the Ocean, 
behind the pillars of Herakles, which 
Herodotus has also referred to in his 

narrative. Hence the road from his coun- 
try to Hellas did not pass at all through 
the Northern Pontic coasts, hence the 
inclusion of the motif in question in the 
Scythian myth was not by far the most 
natural way of incorporating this myth 
in the general texture of the narrative 
about the Labours of Herakles. He was 
most probably invoked from Greek my- 
thology because of the content of the 
actual Scythian myth, in which a similar 
episode could have existed. Such an as- 
sumption seems even more plausible 
bearing in mind that the motif in which 
the hero or the deity is driving away the 
bulls (cows) belonging to some monster, 
is contained in the Old-Indie mytholo- 
gy, and the 4th century AD Latin author 
Firmicus Matcrnus reports that differ- 
ent Iranian -speaking peoples worshipped 
some deity who "stole bulls". In other 
words, this story had existed even earli- 
er in Indo-Iranian tradition. 

Some years ago, archaeologists 
found two bone plaques which used to 
adorn the handle of a comb during exca- 
vations of the Gaymanova mound. The 
scene depicted on one of them (Fig. 6) 
is directly related to the theme under 
consideration. It features the fight of two 
Scythians against a monster, whose fig- 
ure has unfortunately not been preserved 
entirely. The monster has leonine front 
paws, a body covered with scales and a 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

split tail (resembling the tail of a fish or 
a dragon). Judging by its outer experi- 
ence, it is connected with the water cle- 
ment, with the "lower world". One of 
the depicted Scythians dies in the mon- 
ster's paws, while the second one kills 
the dragon with a spear. We have every 
reason to compare this monument with 
the Scythian myth about the victory of 
Herakles-Targitaos over Araxes, Gery- 
on or some other chthonic creature. 

The image on the second bone 
plaque of the same comb is also interest- 
ing (Fig. 7). Here we see a fantastic 
creature with a woman's head and with 
wings, the lower part of her body being 
shaped like a floral palmette. On the 
whole, the rendering of the image is 
very close to the images of the lt snake- 
legged goddess" Api, considered earli- 
er. Such a combination of decorative 
motifs on the same object is not at all 
accidental, bearing in mind the evidence 
in the Scythian myth about the wife of 

Actually, to be accurate, we know 
nothing about the wife of Targitaos - 
the hero of Herodotus 1 first version. 
Nothing is said in the text about her, 
incidentally also about the w ife of Skythes 
in the version given by Diodorus. On 
the other hand, in the two Hcllcni/.cd 
versions of the myth discussed, there is 
some very curious information about the 
wife of Herakles, i.e. the figure identi- 
fied with Targitaos. In the epigraphic 
version she is the daughter of Araxcs 
whom Herakles defeated, i.e. she is ge- 
netically related to the water element. 
Here she is called Echidna and this sub- 
stitution of the figure from the Greek 
mythology replaces the description of 
the heroine's image, because Echidna 
was known as half-woman and half- 
snake, who lives in a cave. This is actu- 
ally the description given to the wife of 
Herakles in Herodotus' second version 
of the Scythian myth. The snake-like 
lower part of her body suggests her links 
with the Earth, as well as being an indi- 

cation that the nymph lived in a cave, 
i.e. in the Earth's womb. It is also inter- 
esting that even Firmicus Maternus re- 
ferred to a female deity with snakes, in 
addition to the male deity stealing bulls. 
Summing up the available information 
about that heroine of the Scythian myth, 
we may conclude that she was a semi- 
ophiomorphic chthonic creature that 
originated cither from the Earth, or from 
the water. But such are precisely, as we 
have seen, the image and the nature of 
the female figure from the previous stage 
in the Scythian mythical genealogy, i.e. 
the wife of Papaios. 

Such a complete coincidence gives 
us grounds to claim that the same hero- 
ine appears in all versions of the myth, 
although her position in the thematic 
texture of the myth may differ: the 
"snake-legged goddessV appears in the 
role of the wife either of the supreme 
deity of the Scythians, or of his son. 
This discrepancy may be assumed to re- 
sult from the distortion of the Scythian 
myth, when it was rendered in the con- 
text of a different cultural tradition, all 
the more that in none of the surviving 
versions there arc female characters be- 
longing to two generations. However, 
another explanation seems more prob- 
able. In mythology (and in particular in 
the Indo-Iranian tradition) a very fre- 
quent motif is that of the incest per- 
formed initially as a mandatory step in 
the formation of the world and in the 
origin of the people. For instance, ac- 
cording to the Zoroastrian notions, which 
indisputably formed on the basis of the 
ancient mythology of the tribes speak- 
ing the Iranian language, the supreme 
deity Ahurama/da coupled with the 
Earth's goddess Spendarmat (Spenta 
Armaiti) to create the first man, Gaio- 
mard, who subsequently became the hus- 
band of his own mother and with their 
progeny started the human kind. In fact, 
this myth is identical to the myth which 
may be reconstructed about the Scyth- 
ians on the basis of all its surviving 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


versions. These sources do not point spe- 
cifically that the wife of the first man in 
Scythian mythology was his own moth- 
er, above all probably due to the fact 
that the story about her has survived to 
our days only in the Greek versions. 
where the Greek Hcrakles has replaced 
the original Scythian figure. In the con- 
text of his biography, the events in 
Scythia are only one episode and there- 
fore the narrative starts with the infor- 
mation that he had come to that land 
from outside, but not that he was the son 
of a local goddess. 

In connection with the proposed re- 
construction of the original theme of the 
Scythian myth, it is interesting to note 
the claim of the 1st century philosopher 
Philon of Alexandria that the tribes of 
the Scythians "lived according to pecu- 
liar laws and rules, and that they al- 
lowed a shameful incest with their moth- 
ers, and that the Scythians handed this 
practice down to their children and to 
their progeny, so that this custom grad- 
ually acquired the force of law in the 
course of time." The total absence of 
any evidence of that kind in the works of 
the other ancient authors (including in 
such detailed descriptions of Scythian 
way of life, which can be found in 
Herodotus) suggests that wc should be 
rather sceptical to Philon's opinion that 
such marriages were the generally ac- 
cepted norm in Scythia. M.F.Boltcnko 
and I.Marazov launched a plausible hy- 
pothesis: this is a Scythian mythological 
motif, which was treated as real prac- 
tice. It is not accidental that Philon's 
words were a hint that such marriages 
in Scythia were usually justified by re- 
ferring to some ancient precedent, and 
such precedents could only be found in 
events dating back to the mythical times 
from the beginning of the world. It is in 
the myth that incest usually appears as 
an event from the life of the progenitors, 
i.e. it was referred back to an age that 
preceded the establishing of the accept- 
ed norms of social behavior, most prom- 

inent among these forms being the ex- 
ogamous character of the marriages. It 
is apparent that Philon's moralizing pas- 
sage refers to precisely such a mytholog- 
ical motif, which confirms its reconstruc- 
tion on the basis of the versions of the 
Scythian myth. 

Let tis turn now to the next genera- 
tion in the Scythian mythical genealogy: 
the sons of the first man. In Herodotus' 
first and second versions, as well as in 
the epigraph ic version, that was the gen- 
eration marking the division of the ge- 
nealogical tree into several branches. In 
the version proposed by Diodorus, the 
brothers Palos and Napes were simply 
referred to as "progeny" of Scythes 
and it is not clear whether he was their 
Hither or a more remote ancestor. How- 
ever, at any rate the myth mentions no- 
thing about the generations that could 
be found in the genealogy between them, 
and the meaning of the narrative again 
focuses on the claim that the different 
groups of Scythians originated from the 
progeny of Scythes. In Argonautica by 
Valerius Flaccus there is no reference 
whatsoever to any kinship between the 
figures borrowed for his story from the 
Scythian myth, and only by comparing 
them to the characters bearing the same 
names in the first version of Herodotus, 
it was possible to assume an analogy in 
the structure of the narrative in the source 
which the Roman poet used. 

If the parts of the Scythian genea- 
logical myth examined above coincided 
along general lines in the different ver- 
sions, in the story about the progeny of 
the first man wc arc already faced with 
controversies between the versions. 
Above all. even the number of his sons 
varies: three sons in the two versions of 
Herodotus, and two sons in the epigraph ic 
version and in that of Diodorus. There 
is also a big di (Terence in the trials which 
the brothers in Herodotus' two versions 
had to go through. There are likewise 
differences in the character of the narra- 
tive about the two brothers-progenitors 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

and about the subdivisions of the North- 
cm Pontic population that stemmed from 
them. For example, in the first version 
of Herodotus there is a discrepancy be- 
tween the name of the brothers and of 
the ' 'clans" stemming from them, while 
in the other sources the respective fig- 
ures arc eponyms for the tribal commu- 
nities stemming from them. Even the 
nature of these communities was differ- 
ent: if in Herodotus' first version and in 
Diodorus' version they arc all referred 
to the Scythians, in the two Hellcnizcd 
versions - Herodotus' second version 
and the cpigraphic one - the sons of 
Heraklcs were progenitors and eponyms 
of unrelated ethnic communities: in 
Herodotus - of the Scythians. Agalhyr- 
soi and Gclonoi, in the cpigraphic text - 
of the Scythians and of the Agalhyrsoi. 
All these differences have prompted us 
to consider the concluding passages of 
the Scythian genealogical myth separate- 
ly according to the different versions. 
and only then to compare the results 
obtained and to define the nature of the 
discrepancies noted. 

This part of the myth is presented in 
greatest detail in Herodotus' first ver- 
sion, where one should analyse in the 
first place the names of the three sons of 
Targitaos: Lipoxais. Arpoxais and Ko- 
laxais. Linguists have found a long time 
ago that the common root in the second 
part of the three names stems from the 
Iranian wordxsaia, meaning "'ruler, dy- 
nast, king". However, researchers are 
not so unanimous on the meaning of the 
first elements of each of these names. 
The most widely accepted interpretation 
seems to be that of the name Arpoxais: 
according to V.I. Abac v T it contains the 
same root which, in combination with 
the clement dan (Iranian danu "river"). 
formed the ancient name of the Dniepr 
river - Danapris - thai can be traced 
beyond any doubt to the Iranian lan- 
guage; it has also been preserved in the 
Ossclic arf "deep". All these words arc 
derived from the same Iranian ar (wa- 

ter), which was mentioned earlier al- 
ready in connection with the interpreta- 
tion of the name of the goddess Api. 
The whole name of Arpoxais can be 
translated as "ruler of the (water) 
depths'* or "King of the depths". 

This interpretation allows to give 
meaning to the two other sons of Targi- 
taos as well. V.I.Abacv interpreted the 
name of Kolaxais as a rendering of the 
Iranian xvar-xsaia. i.e. "King-Sun" (the 
alternation of/' and / being quite com- 
mon in the dialects of the Scythian lan- 
guage, which has been confirmed by 
many examples). As regards the name 
Lipoxais. E.A.Grantovskiy compares it 
with the name Rhipi, Rhipaci Monies. 
According to the surviving evidence from 
the ancient tradition, that was the name 
of the mountain range localized in the 
northern end of the lands beyond 
Scythia. The use of the same root, again 
with a meaning connected with moun- 
tains, has been found in the Rig\ f eda as 
well. All this allows to interpret the name 
of the third brother - Lipoxais - as 
""King-Mountain" (again with the cited 
alternation of the sounds). 

If the proposed etymology of each of 
the three names could give rise to any 
doubts individually, their interpretation 
together- as shown by E.A.Grantovskiy 
- is very consistent and systematic, which 
is a solid argument in support of such 
an interpretation The narrative about 
the sons of Targitaos seems to end the 
story about the formation of the Cos- 
mos: the three brothers personify the 
same three levels of the cosmic struc- 
ture, which -- in their combination - 
make up the Scythian cosmological mod- 
el: the terrestrial (water) depths, the Sun 
(the upper, celestial world) and finally 
the mountain, i.e. the middle element 
linking the other two. This triad seems 
to repeat at a lower level the system 
personified by the three deities in the 
Pantheon: Api, Papaios and Targitaos. 
Tar«itaos is the incarnation of the entire 
material work! that can be found be- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


twccn Heaven and Earth, while his three 
sons are the personifications of (he ele- 
ments that make up that world. 

The problem of the real nature of 
the division of Scythian society, stem- 
ming from these brothers, has occupied 
the minds of researchers for a long time. 
Most detailed data in this connection 
arc found again in Herodotus' first ver- 
sion. In thai narrative, each of the sons 
of Targitaos became the progenitor of 
one Scythian clan: the Katiaroi and the 
Traspics stemmed from Arpoxais. the 
Auchatai - from Lipoxais, and the 
Paralatac - from Kolaxais. As we have 
seen, the other versions of the Scythian 
myth tell about the origin of the differ- 
ent peoples, i.e. about the ethnogencsis 
of the Pontic population. Since the word 
which we translated earlier as "clan 1 ' 
(genos in Greek) allows different inter- 
pretations - ethnic interpretations in- 
cluded - for a long lime the prevalent 
opinion was that Herodotus' first story 
was about the initial division of the 
Scythian population into different tribes. 
The contest between the brothers for the 
right to acquire the gold objects that fell 
from the sky ended with the victory of 
the youngest brother, about which there 
is detailed information in the myth, 
which was interpreted to explain the 
dominance of one Scythian tribe over 
the rest. From other parts of the story of 
Herodotus it becomes clear that such 
was the position of the tribe of the so- 
called "Royal Scythians'' and that they 
were identified with the Paralatac, the 
successors of Kolaxais. The Auchatai. 
Katiaroi and Traspics were perceived as 
the other tribes mentioned by Herodo- 
tus: the ploughing Scythians, the farm- 
ers-Scythians and the nomadic Scyth- 

And yet. many elements of the Scyth- 
ian myth fail to form a part of such an 
interpretation. Above all. Herodotus 
mentions six Scythian tribes, while the 
"clans" stemming from the sons of 
Targitaos arc four at the most: besides. 

if one takes into account the peculiari- 
ties of the Greek text, the phrase "Ka- 
tiaroi and Traspics" should be inter- 
preted with a higher degree of probabili- 
ty as a compound bipartite name of a 
clan or tribe, which leaves only three 
clans (which actually coincides with the 
number of the brothers-progenitors). 
Even that very fact suggests that the 
myth under consideration is not about 
the interrelations of the Scythian tribes, 
but about a structure of some other na- 
ture. This assumption has found a num- 
ber of very interesting and expressive 
confirmations in the works of many re- 
searchers, and especially of G.Dumczil 
and E.A.Grantovskiy. 

A very important example can be 
found in the fact that among the names 
of the Scythian clans stemming from 
the sons of Targitaos there is one that is 
very well known from the surviving mon- 
uments of another Iranian tradition, i.e. 
the name of the Paralatac stemming from 
Kolaxais. This name is the Greek tran- 
scription of the Iranian term paradata 
(with the pronunciation typical of the 
Scythian dialects), which was a title of 
the mythical first king of the ancient 
Iranians. Huscng. about whom there are 
many mythical and epic texts, the Shah- 
name included. According to that tradi- 
tion. Huscng was the founder of the first 
Iranian dynasty and the progenitor of 
the caste of the warriors, of the military 
aristocracy, to which the kings also be- 
longed, the word paradata means 
"placed in front, in the lead". Its exact 
Greek translation - proestheotes - oc- 
curs in Herodotus' Scythian Logos as 
well (IV. 49): that was the name of the 
Scythian chieftains in the narrative about 
the fate of the Scythian king Skyles. All 
this suggests that the name of the clan 
stemming from Kolaxais should be per- 
ceived as a social term that is analogous 
in meaning to a definition of the social 
status of Huscng. 

This assumption also finds confir- 
mation in the passage about the Parala- 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

tae in Herodotus' version of the myth. In 
his narrative about the descendents of 
Kolaxais, the historian states directly that 
the kings - those who were called Parala- 
tac - stemmed from Kolaxais, In the 
years when the monotribal interpreta- 
tion of the Scythian myth about the sons 
of Targitaos and about the clans stem- 
ming from them predominated, research- 
ers tended to think thai such an inter- 
pretation ran counter to the general 
meaning of the story. Hence they con- 
sidered that this was a distortion attrib- 
uted to the scribes and the different tran- 
scripts of the text, and therefore a cor- 
rection was introduced in Herodotus' 
text, according to which the passage of 
interest to us was to be read in the fol- 
lowing way: those who arc called Parala- 
tac stemmed from the younger brother. 
However, it became increasingly clearer 
in the course of lime that such a correc- 
tion was totally unnecessary and that the 
text correlated perfectly with the gener- 
al content of the myth and with the data 
in the Iranian tradition on the meaning 
of the term used as an appellation of the 
Scythian ge/ios. 

In the cited Iranian tradition, the 
warriors stemming from Huscng consti- 
tuted one of the elements of the tripar- 
tite class-caste system, traces of which 
have been found by researchers among 
most Indo-European peoples. This clas- 
sification is particularly clearly perceived 
among the Indo-lranians. The best 
known example in this respect is con- 
sidered to be the three Varnas of ancient 
India: the Ksatriva (the warriors, the 
military aristocracy, including the 
kings), the Brahmans (the priests) and 
the Vaisya (the ordinary community 
members, the direct producers of mate- 
rial wealth). A similar tripartite social 
structure among the Indo-European peo- 
ples was associated with a rather intri- 
cate system of ideological notions. Re- 
cently this was very well illustrated in 
the works of many researchers, most 
prominent among them being those of 

G.Dume/.il. This structure was relevant 
to the progenitor-brothers. For example, 
in the Iranian tradition, in addition to 
Huscng Paradat - the ancestor of the 
caste of warriors - there was also his 
brother, Vcgcrd. the ancestor of farm- 
ers. The same structure was correlated 
with the cosmological model, it found 
expression in the colour symbolism, in 
the attributes usually associated with 
each of the class-caste groups, etc., hence 
it could be reflected through most var- 
ied "cultural codes'' . Let us sec now the 
main figures in the Scythian myth and 
in the clans stemming from them in the 
light of all this evidence. 

So far the meaning of the term 
"Paralatac" and the context in which it 
has been used in Herodotus 's story con- 
stitute the only argument in support of 
the social interpretation of the myth about 
the sons of Targitaos. But according to 
the description of Kolaxais in Argonau- 
tica by Valerius Flaccus, he himself and 
his warriors decorated their shields with 
"fires divided into three parts", with 
Hashing lightning and with pictures of 
red wings. Next to this we find the de- 
scription of Auchus. who was identical 
to Lipoxais. the progenitor of the Au- 
chatai; his distinctive features were his 
white hair since his birth and a special 
band that passed three limes over his 
temples, with ends hanging downwards. 
Further below we shall come back again 
to the "triple fire*' of Kolaxais. Let us 
consider briefly the sharp contrast of the 
colours associated with the different fig- 
ures: red for Kolaxais and white for Au- 
chus. which was noted by E.A.Gran- 
tovskiy. Incidentally, in the Indo-Irani- 
an tradition which can be traced back to 
most ancient times, lite red colour was 
treated as a distinctive and specific fea- 
ture of warriors, while white was a sym- 
bol of priesthood. The peculiar band 
worn by Auchus was also a distinctive 
feature of a priest, and it appears in 
many works of art of the ancient Irani- 
ans. In this wav. we have some oricnta- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


tion about the social nature of the sec- 
ond Scythian clan: apparently the dc- 
scendents of Lipoxais should be per- 
ceived as representatives of the Scythian 
priesthood. Then - according to the Indo- 
Iranian pattern - the last clan of the 
Katiaroi and the Traspics had to per- 
form the third function, i.e. they had to 
be the ordinary members of the commu- 

Specialists supported this interpre- 
tation also by analysing the actual names 
of the clans. As we saw. the interpreta- 
tion of the term "Paralatae" was made 
easier by the feet that it had been attest- 
ed even outside Scythia. in other parts 
of the Iranian world. There were more 
problems connected with the other 
names: they are not known in the con- 
text of interest to us in the other Iranian 
languages, added to the circumstance 
that we knew them only in a Greek vari- 
ant, which was not always very accurate, 
and all this further complicated the stud- 
ies on their etymology. However. 
V.A.Abacv saw the Iranian vahu-ta 
("good, kind") in the term Audita i. 
which, as Grantovskiy suggested, was a 
very relevant name for the caste of 
priests, all the more that there exist ex- 
amples of words having this root being 
used by peoples who had experienced 
the strong influence of the Iranian envi- 
ronment, e.g. the Armenians. Indeed. 
G.Dumc/il proposed a different inter- 
pretation of that term and saw the Au- 
chatai as the clan of the warriors, but 
the interpretation proposed by Grant- 
ovskiy is more convincing, precisely ow- 
ing to its complex character. 

So far there is still no universally 
accepted interpretation of the name of 
the last Scythian clan, i.e. that of the 
Katiaroi and the Traspics. G.Dumc/il 
compared the term "Traspics" with the 
name of the Iranian deity Drvaspa. who 
protected horses and horse-breeding. The 
presence of the Iranian root aspa 
"horse" in this term is beyond any doubt. 
In this connection we shall note that a 

person called Darapsus is referred to im- 
mediately after the mentioned descrip- 
tion of Kolaxais and Auchus in the poem 
by Valerius Fiaccus. The poet gives no 
information that could characterize him, 
but it is perfectly probable that he bor- 
rowed that name from the same source 
from which he got the data about the two 
previous characters, all the more that his 
name is very similar to the name "Trasp- 
ics". It may be assumed that here - as in 
the case with Auchus-Lipoxais - the 
proper name of the brother-progenitor 
Arpoxais was replaced by the name of 
the clan stemming from him. and more 
specifically by the name of that caste to 
which his descendents belonged. Besides, 
the name Darapsus is easily interpreted 
on an Iranian basis: this is dar-aspa 
' "someone who possesses horses, a horse- 
breeder". In this connection it is inter- 
esting to note that in one of the narra- 
tives devoted to the Scythians, the Greek 
author Polyainos (VII. 44) opposed the 
Scythian warriors to the main mass of 
the people, referring to the latter as 
"farmers and horse-breeders". This is 
again such a bipartite term as "Katiaroi 
and Traspics". whereby the second ele- 
ment corresponds fully to the proposed 
interpretation of the Scythian "Trasp- 
ics". A similar bipartite term has been 
used to designate the lower social cate- 
gory in the Avestan tradition as well. It 
is fully possible that Polyainos used the 
exact Greek equivalent for the Scythian 
social term. Unfortunately, for the time 
being we arc unable to support such an 
interpretation by deciphering the first el- 
ement - Katiaroi - making up this term. 
It was mentioned already that in the 
Indo-Iranian world the tripartite system 
of classes and castes was compared to 
the cosmological model as well. The same 
is also valid of the Scythian myth, where 
- as we saw - the brothers-progenitors 
personified the three cosmic zones, 
whereby the cosmic and the social se- 
mantics correlated very well with one 
another: the Katiaroi and the Traspics, 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

whose activities were connected with the 
fertile forces of Nature, stemmed from 
the brother who personified the lower, 
chthonic world; the warriors-Paralatac 
with the fiery red symbolism character- 
istic of them were the descendants of 
Kolaxais, the Sun: the priests-Auchatai. 
one of whose functions was the media- 
tion between the world of ordinary peo- 
ple and the world of the gods, stemmed 
from Lipoxais. i.e. the mountains link- 
ing the sky and the earth. 

The proposed interpretation of the 
myth about the three sons of Targitaos. 
based on the analysis of fragmentary in- 
formation obtained from different au- 
thors, can find a very systematic confir- 
mation, if we turn to the motif which we 
have not yet considered: the story about 
the sacred objects made of gold. 
A.Christcnscn. G.Dumc/.il. E.Bcnvcniste 
and E.A.Grantovskiy have devoted spe- 
cial attention to their interpretation. As 
we can recall, in Herodotus' s story the 
objects that fell from the sky at the time 
of the brothers-progenitors were: a 
plough with a yoke, an axe and a cup 
These attributes fully correspond to the 
described social stratification. The 

plough with the yoke constituted indis- 
putably the attributes of farmers and 
horse-breeders, moreover its composite 
bipartite character is directly correlated 
to its dual function in the cited social 
category and to its name: the plough is 
used by farmers tilling the fields, while 
the yoke is associated with cattle-breed- 
ing as well. During the Scythian period, 
the population along the Norther Pontic 
coasts generally changed to a nomadic 
wax of life, but that object, which had 
been inherited from the Bronze Age 
when the Iranians were characterized by 
their complex agricultural and stock- 
breeding activities, remained a symbolic 
attribute of the lower caste. This detail 
testifies to the time when the mythology 
of the Prolo-ScWhians was formed. 

The battle-axe was one of the most 
characteristic elements in the armament 
of the Pontic tribes during the same 
Bron/c Age. when that role was played 
predominantly by stone axes. For exam- 
ple, such axes are very characteristic of 
the bearers of the so-called catacomb 
culture, dated to the end of the 3rd and 
the first half of the 2nd millennium BC. 
Let us recall in this connection the re- 

D. Raevski) Sr\ thiati Mythology 



markablc stone axes from the so-called 
Bessarabian treasure (Fig, 8): the group 
of objects found along the northwestern 
Pontic coasts undoubtedly belonged to 
some tribal leader from the 2nd millen- 
nium BC and he used them not so much 
as weapons in battle, but rather as a 
status symbol. Iron battle-axes were used 
in the Pontic region during Early Scyth- 
ian limes. We know about richly deco- 
rated axes, which is an indication of the 
ritual function of the object in question. 
A typical example in this respect, for 
instance, is the gilded, richly decorated 
iron axe (Fig. 9) found in the Kclcrmcs 
mound, which was excavated along the 
Kuban river. It cannot be ruled out that 
the actual practice of placing this gold 
axe in the grave of the chieftain was 
prompted by the same tradition which 
had been reflected in the analysed myth. 
It is curious to note that the blunt side of 
the axe is decorated with the image of a 
youth holding the same battle-axe in his 
hand (Fig, 10). Could it be that this was 
Kolaxais - the mythical first owner of 
the sacred relic? Consequently, the gold 
axe was the symbol and the attribute of 
the caste of warriors. 

Fig. 8. Stone axes. Bessarabian 

treasure. 2nd millennium BC 

Fig. 9. Gilded iron axe. Kelermes 

Fig. 10. Warrior holding an axe. 

Decoration on an axe from 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

And finally, the cup made of gold 
was a typical attribute of priests, invari- 
ably present in the rite of sacrificial li- 
bations. Ritual vessels of different shapes 
have been found in Scythian mounds 
(Fig. II): rhytons, shallow phialac. 
spheric cups and vessels having a broad 
neck and two horizontal handles. In most 
cases these cups were made of some pre- 
cious metal or were at least coaled with 
a film of precious metal and were deco- 
rated with mythological scenes, which 
will be discussed later. It cannot be stat- 
ed with certainty precisely which form 
was perceived in Scythia as the incarna- 
tion of the sacred cup that fell from the 
sky; incidentally, Herodotus used the 
term "phialc" to designate this cup. 

Consequently, the three attributes 
figuring in the Scythian myth corre- 
sponded exactly to the tripartite stratifi- 
cation of society, which can be traced in 
the other elements of that myth as well. 
Another no less important feature of 
these attributes is (heir fiery nature, 
which is attested beyond any doubt by 
the circumstance that they could catch 
fire when someone approached them. 
This gives grounds for the statement that 
the three objects which fell from the sky 
were the three fires of the three caste 
groups. Such a symbolism was familiar 
to the Iranian world. For example, dur- 
ing the early mediaeval Sassanid state 
the three sacred fires of Zoroaslrianism 
were worshipped, each of them being 
perceived as sacred to one of the social 
categories dating from the most ancient 
mythical times and being analogous to 
the Scythian ones. This triunily of the 
sacred fires reflects the above-mentioned 
notion about fire as a primeval and all- 
encompassing element that permeates 
the entire world and is present in each 
of its zones. As we have seen, in Scyth- 
ian mythology this clement is personi- 
fied in the image of the goddess Hestia- 
Tabiti. In that case, could il be that the 
myth contained the answer to the still 
outstanding question formulated earlier 

about the nature of a certain multiplicity 
of the "royal Hestiae" of the Scythians? 
Could this name conceal the attributes 
just analysed? They arc Hestiae in the 
same sense in which Tabiti is Hestia, a 
fire-deity; they are also of a celestial, i.e. 
divine, origin and of a fiery nature. And 
they arc royal, loo. because according to 
the Scythian myth, they all became the 
possession of the youngest brother Ko- 
laxais. the progenitor of the warriors 
and kings, and since these mythical times 
they were jealously guarded by the Scyth- 
ian kings. The circumstance that the two 
older brothers could not have the gold 
which caught fire when they approached, 
and that the gold was accessible only to 
the youngest brother, suggests the domi- 
nant position of Kolaxais and of the caste 
in Scythian society which he represent- 
ed (let us recall that in Valerius Flaccus 
the shield of Kolaxais is decorated w ilh 
the picture of fire divided into three parts, 
i.e. that person possessed the three sa- 
cred fires). The possession of these ob- 
jects was the sign sent by heaven to 
Kolaxais and to his descendents, the 
Scythian kings, about the divine origin 
of their power and about the fact that 
they were brought closer to the goddess 
Tahiti. This is why. the oath kt in the 
name of the royal Hestiae" was- in the 
words of Herodotus - the highest oath of 
the Scythians, while a false oath invok- 
ing these sacred names brought a grave 
illness to the king: this was a violation 
of the status sanctioned by the gods and 
it had to be invariably expiated by the 
death penalty being imposed on the sac- 
rilegious individual. 

Herodotus ends his narrative about 
the Scythian myth with information about 
the next generation in the mythical ge- 
nealogy: the three sons of Kolaxais be- 
tween whom the entire Scythian king- 
dom was divided. Since these mythical 
times. Scythia was ruled by three kings, 
one of whom - the supreme dynast - 
guarded the sacred objects of gold. The 
same tenia rv structure that characterizes 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


Fig. 1L Scythian ritual vessel. 
Ch my rev a barrow 

the Scythian cosmological model and 
social structure is projected here onto 
the political organization of the Scyth- 
ians. According to the evidence in 
Herodotus, a similar organization was 
characteristic of Scythia at least until 
the end of the 6th century BC; during 
the war against Darius the army of the 
Scythians was led by three kings, the 
oldest among whom - Idanthyrsos - ut- 
tered the words cited earlier that he rec- 
ognized only his ancestor Zeus and Hcs- 
tia, the Queen of the Scythians, as his 
sovereigns. Here we sec the direct re- 
flection of the notion about the continu- 
ity of power that can be traced back to 
Kolaxais. the first Scythian king having 
'divine blood''. In the eyes of the Scyth- 
ians, the remote ancient character of the 
social and political institutions, dating 
back to the mythical times of the ances- 
tors, was perceived as a guarantee for 
the * 'correctness' ' of these institutions 
and hence as a guarantee for the stabili- 
ty and welfare of Scythian society. 

Nevertheless, having analysed the 
entire Scythian myth which explains the 
structure and the nature of the social 

cosmos of the Scythians, we have failed 
to obtain an explanation of one of the 
elements ol the formula pronounced by 
Idanthyrsos. and consequently of the no- 
tions about the structure of the world, 
reflected in it: why was Hcstia referred 
to as ■Queen of the Scythians"? The 
actual content of the myth docs not give 
an answer to this question. However, 
immediately after Herodotus narrated the 
myth, he described the forms of worship 
of the sacred objects, practised by the 
Scythians, i.e. the worshipping of the 
"'royal Hcstiac". according to the pro- 
posed explanation. Could it be that this 
description would add something to our 
notions about the content of the Scyth- 
ian myth? Such an assumption is logi- 
cal, ail the more bearing in mind that 
the forms of this worship, which follow 
from Herodotus* story, originated in the 
same mythical times and could perfectly 
be associated with the events in the myth. 
Herodotus reported the following: 
'The kings of the Scythians guarded 
the above-mentioned gold very jealously 
and worshipped it with rich sacrifices 
every year. Whoever fell asleep under 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

the open sky with that sacred gold dur- 
ing a festive occasion, he - in the words 
of the Scythians - would not even live 
one year more; therefore he was given 
as much land as he could tour on horse- 
back in one day/ 1 Let us consider this 
passage, drawing attention both to its 
general composition and to every minor 

Researchers arc unanimous that this 
meant events from the annual Scythian 
festivities which were virtually the cen- 
tral event in the Scythian religious cal- 
endar. These were the festivities during 
which rich sacrifices were offered to the 
sacred gold attributes. Most probably this 
coincided with the same moment in the 
calendar when - according to the myth 
- the gold relics fell from the sky onto 
Scythian soil. But who was the person 
who fell asleep with the sacred gold dur- 
ing the festivities? A hypothesis was 
launched (B.N.Grakov) that this was one 
of the guards who had the obligation of 
watching over the sacred objects for a 
very long time: the person who was the 
first to fail in this vigil and to fall asleep, 
was doomed to death. However, only one 
line higher Herodotus informs that the 
gold was guarded by the Scythian kings 
themselves. Moreover, in his narrative 
about the death of the man who fell 
asleep, he added a curious detail: this 
death did not in the least follow imme- 
diately after the offence, it was separat- 
ed from it by a relatively long period of 
time, which incidentally did not exceed 
one year. Insofar as the sleep occurred at 
a definite moment of the calendar, it 
may be assumed that the ensuing death 
of that individual also had a definite 
calendar fixation. And finally, it is par- 
ticularly noteworthy that this death was 
not in the least a punishment for the 
offence: it was the inevitable conse- 
quence of the sleep, but it required a 
definite (and moreover substantial) com- 
pensation. The way in which the size of 
this compensation was determined was 
also curious: the doomed individual was 

given as much land as he could tour on 
horseback in one day. 

What if we assumed that all these 
elements of the festivities reproduced 
events in which the principal figures of 
the myth took part? Such an assumption 
is a satisfactory explanation of all speci- 
ficities of the elements of the Scythian 
religious acts listed so far. According to 
the myth, Kolaxais - the personification 
o^ the Sun - was the first owner of the 
sacred gold The notion about the annual 
solar cycle presupposes that the Sun died 
every year, that it was reborn again every 
year and that it reached the culmination 
of its power on the day of the summer 
solstice. On receiving the gold attributes, 
Kolaxais was brought closer to the sacred 
fire, which guaranteed him the greatest 
power. However, his solar nature required 
that Kolaxais-Sun would die before the 
year was over. Could this not be an ex- 
planation of the time interval between 
the day of the festivities and the moment 
of that person's death? The repetition of 
the festivities every year correlates well 
with the idea about the regular renova- 
tion of the royal power, which was cus- 
tomary in the ideology of the ancient so- 
cieties and was a mandatory condition 
for the welfare of the community led by 
the king. Hence the Scythian king - a 
dcsccndcnt of Kolaxais who also inherit- 
ed his mythical fate - was brought again 
and again closer to the sacred gold every 
\ car. but then the person had to die. Re- 
searchers (G.Dume/il. M.A.Artamonov) 
launched the hypothesis a long time ago 
that the person performing the rituals 
during the Scythian festivities was the 
so-called temporary king. i.e. an individ- 
ual called upon to substitute the real king 
in the bloody rituals imitating the annual 
death of the King-Sun. The land given to 
him for one year was most probably not 
real property, as suggested, e.g., by 
M I.Arlamonov. being instead an imita- 
tion of the "kingdom" of such a tempo- 
ran king: besides, the way in which its 
si/c was determined, was prompted by 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


pJpt'Hnfll>"lt]»W# t 

Fig. 12. Gold applique from Kul-Oba 

the king's solar nature, reproducing the 
diurnal movement of the Sun. the 
"round" of his solar possessions. A sim- 
ilar ceremony of the royal rounds was 
widely practised in the antiquity and its 
origin can be traced in the same concept 
which identified the king with the Sun, 

Nevertheless, why did the descrip- 
tion of the Scythian festivities lay special 
emphasis not simply on the act of bring- 
ing the hero closer to the gold attributes, 
but precisely on the sleeping with these 
attributes? It should be noted that this 
was sleeping "under the sky*' and it was 
from the sky that the sacred relics fell. As 
we assumed earlier, these same relics were 
the incarnation of the goddess Tabiti- 
Hcstia. Perhaps it would be most natural 
lo assume that this was matrimonial sleep. 
the marriage of the first Scythian king 
Kolaxais lo the goddess of fire in the 
triune image of the gold objects that 
caught fire by themselves (I.Mara/ov) 
The different religious and mythological 
systems in the ancient world were very 
well familiar with the notion of the mar- 
riage of the king to the goddess as a 
means of his coming closer lo the power- 
ful divine beginning and hence as a wav 
of obtaining royal power. Then the title 
of "Queen of the Scythians", which - 
according to Herodotus - Idanthyrsos 
awarded to the goddess Tabiti-Hcstia, re- 
flected the widespread notion in Scylhia 

| % 4t00>°*% 

about that goddess as the celestial bride 
of the Scythian king. It was precisely their 
marriage that constituted the content of 
the annual Scythian festivities. 

We have yet another source that 
lends credibility to the proposed recon- 
struction. Many of the so-called royal 
burial mounds of the Scythians, con- 
taining burials of representatives of the 
higher Scythian aristocracy, revealed 
small gold appliques on which the same 
scene recurs. A standing figure of a 
young Scythian, drinking from a rhyton. 
is facing a seated Scythian matron 
dressed in ritual(?) clothes (Fig. 12). 
The woman is holding a round mirror in 
her left hand. The composition of the 
scene is such that the mirror is placed 
exactly in the middle, between the two 
figures. Scylhologists have long come to 
the conclusion that the female figure 
depicted was one of the Scythian god- 
desses, and that the entire scene fea- 
tured the moment of the hero's coming 
closer to the goddess. However, one can- 
not ignore the complete similarity be- 
tween this scene and the wedding ritual 
that was customary for different peoples 
in the Indo-iranian group. According to 
the w idesprcad practice among these peo- 
ples, a compulsory clement of the wed- 
ding ritual was for the bride and bride- 
groom to look into one mirror together. 
Such a custom existed even in ancient 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

India, moreover the bride had to hold 
the mirror invariably in her left hand. 
The existence of such a rite among dif- 
ferent Indo-Iranian peoples also suggests 
its very ancient origin, before the migra- 
tion of these peoples, i.e. it could per- 
fectly well have existed among the Scyth- 
ians as well. The same rite also often 
comprised drinking from the ritual bev- 
erage together. In that case, there is 
every reason to assume that the very 
popular Scythian scene depicted on these 
appliques rendered in anthropomorphic 
images the same marriage between Tabiti 
and Kolaxais. which was reflected in 
symbolic forms in the ritual of the sleep 
of the Scythian king or of his temporary 
substitute with the sacred gold during 
the Scythian festivities and which gave 
Tabiti-Heslia the name "Queen of the 

There is yet another object which 
reflects the ritual of interest to us. more- 
over in a much more expanded and de- 
tailed form. This is the gold plaque from 
the tumulus near the village of Sakh- 
novka along the Dniepr (Fig. 13) and it 
was used apparently to decorate a hat of 
the type which can be seen on the fe- 
male figure in the scene. The plaque is 
decorated with an intricate composition 
consisting of many figures, but unfortu- 
nately the execution is so careless that 
many of the details arc completely 

Fig. 13. Gold plaque front the barrow 
near the village of Sakhnovka 

Fig. 14. (told com h from Soiokha 

D. Racvskiv Scvthian Mythology 




The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

undistinguishable. Nevertheless, the 
main content of the picture is perfectly 
understandable. The centre of the com- 
position again features the same scene: 
a goddess holding a mirror and a Scyth- 
ian with a rhyton. Similar to the appli- 
ques examined, the mirror is also exact- 
ly in the centre, between the main fig- 
ures. This group is surrounded by auxil- 
iary figures; cup-bearers, two Scythians 
with a ram intended to be sacrificed, a 
musician and an adolescent male ser- 
vant holding a fan. All this entourage 
suggests that the central scene in the 
composition rendered some very import- 
ant rite, which was accompanied by so- 
phisticated and varied ceremonies. Sim- 
ilar rituals were perfectly relevant to the 
sacred marriage between the king and 
the goddess, all the more that sonic de- 
tails (e.g.. the fan above the bride) be- 
tray elements of a wedding rite. 

Before we part with the heroes in 
the Scythian genealogical myth, as we 
saw them in Herodotus' first version, 
we have to find the answer to the last 
question: what could be the interpreta- 
tion of the death of Kolaxais-Sun. which 
succeeded in less than one year his affil- 
iation to the sacred fire, in the narrative 
texture of that myth? Let us recall in 
this connection that the motif of the 
competition between the three brothers, 
ending with the victory of the youngest 
among them, was not in the least typical 
of Scythian culture only. It was custom- 
ary of the folklore of too many peoples, 
being known in the Iranian epic tradi- 
tion as well, with its stories about the 
sons of Feridun (the mythological 
Tracthaona). Then the murder of the 
youngest victorious brother by his elder 
rivals was an almost compulsory solu- 
tion of that collision in the plot. Is there 
any reason to assume that a similar de- 
velopment of the plot existed in Scyth- 
ian mythology? Herodotus kept his si- 
lence on this issue. However, Valerius 
Flaccus, already cited on many occa- 
sions, refers to the episode of the fight 

of Colax with some character called 
Apms (VI. 638-640). There is no doubt 
that this name is identical with the first 
part of the name Arpoxais in Herodo- 
tus. Bearing in mind the method dis- 
cussed earlier, by means of which Flac- 
cus composed the motifs he had bor- 
rowed from the sources, it may be 
claimed that the poet had preserved for 
us the evidence that the Scythian myth 
contained the story about the battle be- 
tween the brothers, the sons of Targi- 
taos. This episode in Argonaut tea is 
directly followed by the story about the 
death of Colax, though actually here 
the assassin is the principal character 
of the poem. i.e. Jason, the leader of the 
Argonauts, which is in keeping with 
the general plot of the poem. 

"Alone, wounded and deprived of 
his horse" - this is how Valerius Flac- 
cus describes Colax to his readers. But 
let us consider the scene on the gold 
comb found in the Scythian barrow So- 
lokha (Fig. 14). Here the Greek artist 
has depicted masterfully three fighting 
Scythians: a warrior on foot and anoth- 
er warrior on horseback arc repelling 
together their adversary: his horse has 
been killed already and is lying under 
the feet of the fighting men; the lonely 
Scythian has had to get off his horse 
and the lethal spear is about to catch up 
with him. There is a striking resem- 
blance between the description found in 
the Roman poet and the interpretation 
proposed by the anonymous Greek art- 
ist. "The outcome of the battle is clear: 
the death of the warrior who had re- 
mained without his horse is inevitable" 
- this is the interpretation of the com- 
position on the comb from Solokha, pro- 
posed by A.P.Mantscvich. w ho has stud- 
ied it. The hypothesis that this was pre- 
cisely how the analysed myth ended in 
the Scythian tradition finds support both 
in the literary sources and in works of 

This has brought us to the end of 
the analysis of the Scythian gcnealogi- 

D, Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


cal myth according to the evidence con- 
tained in Herodotus' first version. This 
is indeed a whole mythological cycle. 
First \vc referred to the cosmogencsis. 
Then we became acquainted with the 
first man in the Scythian mythology. 
whose descendents created the social and 
the political organization of Scythian 
society: they marked the beginning of 
the tripartite caste stratification of the 
Scythians, led by the kings-warriors, and 
they also started the institution of the 
three kings which existed in Scythia. It 
seems that the attribution of all these 
forms of existence of Scythian society 
to the mythical times from the "begin- 
ning of the world" lended a divine 
sanction to them, transforming the 
preservation of these forms into a guar- 
antee for the stability and well-being of 

How docs this interpretation agree 
with the evidence in the remaining ver- 
sions of the Scythian myth, which - as 
we have pointed out already - differed 
substantially from the examined ver- 
sion? In Diodorus. the Scythian 
people divided into two branches - Paloi 
and Napoi - under the descendents of 
Skylhes, the king who stemmed from 
the gods. The Greek historian exam- 
ines this division as monotribal. How- 
ever, the names of these "peoples'* 
could suggest that this had a meaning 
in the actual Scythian tradition, simi- 
lar to the division which wc investigat- 
ed in the course of the analysis of the 
first version given by Herodotus. The 
name "Paloi" can be interpreted as 
"warriors, a military detachment", i.e. 
its meaning was analogous to Herodo- 
tus 1 Paralatac. It is not accidental that 
there was a king called Palacus. i.e. 
"warrior", in the Late Scythian king- 
dom, and one of the main Late Scyth- 
ian fortresses in the Crimea (most prob- 
ably even the capital of the Scythians) 
was called Palacium, meaning "for- 
tress of the warriors". The term 
"Napoi" betrays the Iranian napha. 

meaning "relatives, community", i.e. 
that term could be interpreted as "com- 
moners", being identical in meaning 
to the Old-Indie name for the third 
Varna - the Vaisya. According to the 
evidence of a later author. Stephen of 
Byzantium, who was well familiar with 
the ancient sources about Scythia and 
the Scythians. "Napis is a settlement 
in Scythia." These words arc usually 
interpreted as information about some 
concrete Scythian settlement, and a 
proper name is identified in them. How- 
ever, this passage may be understood 
iii another way as well: as the transla- 
tion of a Scythian word meaning "set- 
tlement" in general. For example, ac- 
cording to V. I.Abacv's evidence, the 
Ossctic people had preserved traces of 
a cult of the deity Naphos. the patron 
and protector of even' settlement, 
though in the past it is possible that 
each Ossetic village had its own Na- 

The evidence in Pliny the Elder (VI. 
50) about the struggle between Paloi 
and Napoi is also interesting, as these 
were two groups that lived in the Eur- 
asian steppes during Scythian times, and 
ended with the destruction of the Napoi 
by the Paloi. The names "peoples" arc 
quite similar to whose which arc famil- 
iar to us from Diodorus. However, 
should wc understand literally the hy- 
pothesis about the destruction of the 
Napoi':' For example, a similar story can 
be found in the narrative of the Nartic 
epos about the interrelations of Ossetic 
clans, which is analogous to the three 
social categories of Scythians. One of 
these is the clan Ahsartagkata, possess- 
ing manhood and strength, and corre- 
sponding to the Scythian Paralatac-Pal- 
oi. or to the Indian Ksalriya (the actual 
name of the Ossctic people stems from 
the same Indo-Iranian root, ksatra or 
xsatm-power): parallel with him lived 
the clan Bo rat a. who were wealthy 
people, i.e. they were connected to the 
production sphere of the social wav of 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

life, corresponding in this sense to the 
Katiaroi and Traspies, or to the Napoi. 
Among the numerous legends about the 
Nartes, written down by folklorists. there 
is also a story about the systematic ex- 
termination of the representatives of that 
clan by the clan of the Ahstartagkata. 
According to G.DumcziFs observation, 
this did not prevent the continued exist- 
ence of the Borata clan. In folklore, this 
is a specific manifestation of the idea 
about the relations of domination and 
subordination among the various parts 
of the social organism: the victors are 
representatives of the social upper crust, 
whereas the defeated and even annihi- 
lated clan symbolized the lower social 
groups. Apparently. Pliny's story reflects 
a similar plot in Scythian folklore, con- 
firming the social nature of the division 
of the Scythians into Paloi and Napoi. 

But then why do the story of Di- 
odorus and Pliny's report refer to two 
social categories only, because no priests 
have been presented here, unlike the ver- 
sion examined earlier? Perhaps the an- 
swer to this question can be found in 
Herodotus' second version about the 
Scythian myth. However, for this pur- 
pose it is necessary to penetrate its real 
meaning first by stripping it of the addi- 
tional layers of the Greek treatment. 

The story about the birth of the sons 
of Herakics is built here according to a 
pattern that is perfectly similar to that of 
the other surviving versions of the Scyth- 
ian myth. But this is where the similari- 
ties end. First of all. the trial chosen for 
the three brothers is of an entirely dif- 
ferent nature: they have to pull the bow- 
string - one of those two bows which, 
according to Herodotus, were previously 
the possession of their father, Herakics 
- and to strap his belt around their waist. 
However, the result of the test is again 
similar to the first version of Herodotus: 
it was only the youngest son who could 
cope with the trial, so he became the 
first Scythian king; the other two broth- 
ers were sent in exile. 

Fig. 15-16. Silver vessel from the 
Voronezh barrows 

This story in Scythian mythology is 
known to us not only from Herodotus, it 
has been presented in considerable de- 
tail in a scries of works of art found in 
Scythian barrows. It can be most easily 
recognized on the silver spheric cup 
found in 1911 along the Middle Don, 
near the present-day town of Voronezh 
(Figs. 15-19). The cup is decorated with 
three double scenes, the same figures 
being present in all three groups. These 
are the long-haired bearded Scythian who 
is talking in turn to the remaining three 
persons, and this distinguishes him be- 
yond any doubt as the principal figure in 
the composition. In addition to this, a 
number of other elements allow us to 
identify the scene with the content of 
the myth narrated by Herodotus. Only 
one of the scenes contains no details 
which could make its content more con- 
crete: in that scene the cited principal 
figure is simply having a talk with the 
other person. But in the very next scene 
that other person is clearly leaving. In- 
deed, he is depicted standing on his 
knees, but this is a customary practice in 
Greek art of rendering the figures, when 
one of the participants in a scene is seat- 
ed. It is particularly noteworthy that this 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


"" mm ^^r 

Scythian is holding two spears in his 
hands, which was the conventional way 
in Greek vase-painting to depict war- 
riors who arc setting off on a long march. 
The principal character's hand is out- 
stretched after the departing person and 
his fingers indicate the number three. 
The content of the third scene is most 
expressive. Here the companion of the 
principal figure is beardless, with the 
obvious intention of indicating his youth, 
compared with the other figures. The 
principal figure is handing to that young 
Scythian one of his two bows (the sec- 
ond one is hanging on his belt). 

It is rather easy to read the content 
of this scene: the principal hero is Hcr- 
aklcs-Targhaos. the progenitor of the 
Scythians. He is rendered with each of 
his three sons in succession, explaining 
the essence of the forthcoming trial to 
one of them, banishing the second one 
from the lands after his failure to cope 
with the trial, indicating with his fin- 
gers the number of the brothers thai had 
been put to the test, while the third and 
youngest son, who had fulfilled the task, 
receives one of the two bows as a sym- 
bol of his victory and of his power over 

V v 

The content of the scene under con- 
sideration shows only one essential dif- 
ference from the rendering of this myth 
in Herodotus: in the latter case the trial 
is conducted not by Hcraklcs, but by the 
mother of the three brothers, the ^snake- 
legged goddess*, who decides what their 
fate should be. banishing the unsuccess- 
ful competitors and rewarding the vic- 
tor. On the vessel from Voronezh this 
function is performed by their father, 
the progenitor Hcraklcs-Targitaos. But 
the difference should not surprise us: in 
Herodotus' narrative the adventure of 
Hcraklcs in Scvthia is only one brief 
episode in his eventful life. The hero 
who had accidentally happened to be 
there cannot wait for his sons to grow 
up and become men. so he goes back to 
Hellas soon after their birth. Naturally, 
the distribution of the roles in the origi- 
nal Scythian myth must have been total- 
ly different. In Scvthia. with its stable 
tradition of patrilinear kinship, the most 
important clement in the biography of 
the mythical first king was his origin 
from the deities on the father's side; it 
was the male ancestor who had to offer 
the sacral trial to the brothers and to 
crown the victor with power. Such is 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 


Fig. 17. Details of the silver vessel 
from the Voronezh harrows 

Fig. 18-19. Silver vessel from the 
Voronezh harrows 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 



The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

Fig. 20. Electron vessel from Kul-Oha 

Fig. 21. A Scythian pulling the string 
of a bow. Electron vessel 
from Kul-Oba 

Fig. 22-23. The "healing scene". 
Electron vessel from 

consequently the rendering of the scene 
by the Greek artist, who apparently made 
the vessel as a Scythian order, obvioush 
intended to be used for ritual purposes. 
Let us consider now Ihc vessel made 
of electron [an alloy of gold and silver, 
translator's note], which was found as 
early as in 1830 in the Kul-Oba Scyth- 
ian mound (Figs. 20-23). This is one of 
the first and perhaps the most remark- 
able find among the vast scries of ob- 
jects decorated with the so-called scenes 
from the life of the Scythians. The com- 
position here is divided into four auton- 
omous groups. The first group, similar 
to the vessel from Voronezh, presents 
two conversing Scythians. But here the 
attention is focused on one essential de- 
tail: the head of one of the figures (un- 
doubtedly the most senior and the most 
noble one) is decorated by a narrowband 
like a diadem, which is the symbol of 
royal dignity. The next scene shows the 
single figure of a Scythian who is pull- 
ing the string of a bow, i.e. he is per- 
forming the same action which repre- 
sents the essence of the trial indicated in 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


the myth; the second bow (his own ) is 
hanging from his belt. This is followed 
by the two so-called healing scenes. In 
the first scene one of the Scythians is 
touching a tooth or the damaged mandi- 
ble of the other Scythian: in the second 
scene the Scythian warrior is bandaging 
the knee of his wounded comrade. At a 
first glance, the content of these scenes 
is totally unrelated to the myth of inter- 
est to us. However, let us take a careful 
look at the way in which the pulling of 
the bow-string is depicted on this vessel 
and let us imagine the possible conse- 
quences of the unsuccessful attempt to 
achieve this task. As is known, the Scyth- 
ian bow belongs to the category of the 
so-called composite weapons, which con- 
sist of several details. In a normal posi- 
tion, it is turned in the opposite direc- 
tion to that when the bow' is used in 
battle. If such a bow, especially when it 
is very tight, is being pulled by putting it 
under the warrior's left knee and by rest- 
ing its end against the right thigh (as 
shown on the scene), even the smallest 
careless movement may cause this part 

of the bow to jump. Then the wood of 
the bow would instantly twist outward 
with the entire strength of the released 
spring, at the same time performing a 
rotating movement around its point of 
support on the left leg. In this way the 
bow would hit the left part of the man- 
dible of its owner cither with the upper 
part of the wood, or its lower part would 
hit the man's left knee. i.e. exactly the 
injuries suggested in the scenes on the 
vessel from Kul-Oba. 

With this in mind, we can easily 
decipher the content of the entire com- 
position as depicting the same Scythian 
myth: in the first scene the progenitor 
Heraklcs-Targitaos explains to one of 
his sons the essence of the trial that he 
has to face: then the outcome of this 
trial for the three brothers is presented: 
success for one of them and defeat for 
the other two. For Herodotus, who nar- 
rated the myth, it was sufficient simply 
to mention the failure, without specify- 
ing its exact forms. Whereas the artist 
who had to depict the story inevitably 
had to make the narrative more con- 


The Scythian Gencalogkal Myth 

Fig. 24. Silver vessel from 
Gaymanova harrow 

Fig. 25. Scenes from the frieze 
on a silver vessel. 
Gay ma no va barrm v 

Crete. Being very well familiar with the 
Scythian way of life and with the Scyth- 
ian rcalia, this was a simple task for him 
and he visualized beautifully the content 
of the myth on the precious ritual vessel. 
It cannot be ruled out that this myth 
was related to the composition on the 
cup found recently in the Gaymanova 
barrow (Figs 24, 25). Unfortunately, the 
main scene is badly damaged. Neverthe- 
less, it is obvious that two Scythians arc 
depicted, one of whom is markedly 
younger than the other figure, having a 
very short beard. His youth is also ap- 
parent from the circumstance that he is 
being served by a beardless youth (his 
figure is located behind the back of the 
young Scythian, below the handle of the 
cup), whereas the servant of the other 
main figure in the scene is a bearded 
mature Scythian. The two figures in the 
central scene are stretching their hands 
to one another. What is the meaning of 
this gesture? The handing of some ob- 
ject, e.g. of a bow, as on the vessel from 
Voronezh? Or simply the bringing of 
the younger man closer to the might and 
power possessed by the older one? The 
damaged scene prevents us from find- 
ing the answer to this question, but at 
any rate the pictoral solution of this prob- 
lem correlates very well with the con- 
tent and meaning of the myth of interest 
to us. On the opposite side of the vessel 
there is a scene which is separated from 
the main one: it depicts two middle- 
aged Scythians who are engaged in con- 

versation. If we acccpl the proposed in- 
terpretation of the entire composition, it 
is easy to discern in these figures the 
two eider brothers of the victorious youth. 
The scene lacks any details that would 
make its content more concrete, with 
the only exception that its two figures 
are depicted with more weapons com- 
pared to the remaining persons (the cen- 
tral figures included). If we recall the 
reconstruction of the finale of Herodo- 
tus" first version as a narrative about the 
murdering of the younger brother by the 
two elder ones, and taking into account 
the compositional opposition of the two 
scenes on the cup from Gaymanova bar- 
row, we could assume with justification 
that the elder sons of Hcraklcs-Targi- 
taos were depicted here at the moment 
when they were contemplating that mur- 

If we acccpl this interpretation, the 
three monuments under consideration 
testify, first, that Herodotus presented 
the content of the Scythian myth suffi- 
ciently accurately, and second, that this 
myth was \ cry popular in Scylhia and it 
played an important role in its ideology, 
all the more that a central feature in it 
was ihc story about the trial of the three 
brothers and about the victorv of the 
youngest among them. But what is the 
meaning of this trial? 

If in the first version of Herodotus 
the sacred attributes sent to the brothers 
from heaven represented functions of the 
three caste groups, in the second version 

D. Racvskiv Scythian Mythology 


Ihc objects handed by Hcraklcs to his 
sons were exclusively warrior's at- 
tributes. It is perfectly clear that the bow 
is an offensive weapon, As regards the 
second part of the trial, the strapping of 
the belt, the assumed difficulty of that 
operation, which - according to Herodo- 
tus - required habit and previous train- 
ing, suggests that the trial implied the 
tight belt consisting of separate metal 
plaques, which was customary for the 
battle attire of Scythian soldiers and rep- 
resented an clement of their protective 
clothing in battle. Such an interpreta- 
tion docs not run counter to the Greek 
term chososter which Herodotus used. 
In this connection we would like to re- 
call that precisely such a set of offensive 
and defensive weapons could be seen in 
the Old-Indie tradition as attributes of 
the Ksatriya, the representatives of the 
military, unlike the Brahmans who per- 
sonified the priesthood. In other words, 
the trial in this variant of the Scythian 
myth has a perfectly unambiguous * 'pro- 
fessional", i.e. military, implication. It 
appears then that the two trials described 
by Herodotus in his two versions seem 
to be mutually complementary: the story 
about the objects falling from the sky 
reveal which of the three social groups 
is called upon by the divine will to have 
a supreme position over the remaining 
two, and the conclusion was that this 
role was intended for the warriors. On 
the other hand, the trial with the weap- 
on of Hcraklcs was aimed at determin- 

ing precisely which of the brothers was 
the warrior and the progenitor of the 
warrior caste. In principle, these are two 
successive stages of the same trial 
(whereby the second one had to precede 
the first): in Herodotus' narrative they 
proved to be divided in two versions of 
the mvth only because they distribute 
differently the semantic accents, and ac- 
cordingly they performed different func- 
tions in the system of the socio-political 
ideology of the Scythians. 

Here wc arc confronted with an in- 
teresting detail: the second narrative of 
Herodotus contains evidence that a gold 
cup (phiale) was attached to the belt of 
Hcraklcs and that this marked the be- 
ginning of the Scythian tradition of wear- 
ing a cup on one's belt. From the first 
version of the myth wc know that such a 
cup was a priestly attribute. However, in 
the trials of Hcraklcs* sons the cup plays 
no role: the victor receives it somewhat 
automatically, having proved that he is 
a warrior. Therefore, in addition to the 
sacred object for a warrior and the royal 
power, the youngest son of Heraklcs- 
Targilaos receives the priestly cup as 
well, and with this the right to perform 
the functions of a priest. This moment is 
not at all accidental. The entire history 
of the ideology of the ancient Indo- 
Iranian peoples abounds in examples of 
the rivalry between the warriors (the 
Ksatriya) and the priests (the Brahmans) 
to attain the dominant position in Soci- 
ety. Such a struggle is mentioned in the 


The Scythian Genealogical Myth 

narratives about Scythia as well. Ii is 
sufficient to recall the evidence in 
Herodotus (IV. 68-69) about the severe 
punishments imposed on the Scythian 
soothsayers and priests on the orders of 
the kings of Scythia even for the small- 
est 4 'professional error' 1 committed by 
them. This narrative testifies that the 
warrior-kings indeed had the leading 
position in Scythia. Hence it is their 
ideology that Herodotus has reflected in 
his second version of the Scythian myth. 

Now we receive an answer to the 
question why in the variant of this myth. 
narrated by Diodorus, there were only 
two caste groups: Paloi and Napoi. The 
ideology reflected here had no place for 
the priesthood: its social position was 
entirely subordinated to the warriors, to 
the complete denial of the independent 
being of this caste group, which can be 
seen in the Scythian social nomencla- 
ture concerning the brothers-progenitors, 
preserved in the works of Diodorus. 

It remains to note a specificity of 
the second version of Herodotus. We 
saw that its entire content reflects the 
same social theme that is so clearly felt 
in the first version. This is the story 
about the formation of the caste organi- 
zation of Scythian society, about the es- 
tablishing of the power of the warrior- 
kings. The images of the progenitor- 
brothers should also have a meaning 
accordingly. Incidentally, in Herodotus 
they seem to play a totally different role. 
being progenitors and cponyms of three 
unrelated peoples: Scythians, Agathyr- 
soi and Gelonoi. Such an obvious dis- 
crepancy leads us to believe that we have 
come across a Greek interpretation of 
the myth. It was precisely the Greeks 
who substituted the ethnographic con- 
tent of the legend for the social content, 
associating the three peoples fixing along 
the Northern Pontic coast with the three 
brothers. Actually, such an assumption 
could be expressed even before we anal- 
ysed the nature of the trial: each people 
has its own myths about its origin and it 

is highly unlikely that the original Scyth- 
ian myth referred to the origin of 
peoples that were not united with the 
Scythians cither ethnically or politi- 

The same substitution - Skythcs and 
Agalhyrsos - is also revealed in the epi- 
graphic version of the Scythian myth. It 
is hardly accidental that we come across 
such persons precisely in the two most 
Hellcni/ed versions, according to other 
characteristic features as well. As re- 
gards the circumstance that there arc 
two and not three brothers in the cpi- 
graphic version, here one can assume 
the existence of the same structure which 
we discovered in the myth told by Di- 
odorus. However, this source docs not 
provide concrete data in confirmation of 
such an interpretation. 

Let us summarize the results of the 
analysis of the Scythian genealogical 
myth. Indeed, we are faced with a com- 
plex mythological cycle which reflects 
the notions of the Scythians about the 
successive stages in the formation of the 
Universe. Its first unit is the description 
of the cosmogony through the story about 
the deeds of the gods, in which different 
elements of the Cosmos are personified. 
According to Scythian mythology, the 
creation of the Universe was not a scries 
of purpose-oriented acts of construction, 
but a chain of births, which is generally 
intrinsic to the most archaic myths. Ac- 
cording to the notions of the Scythians, 
the marriage of heaven with Earth-wa- 
ter gave birth to a person who incarnat- 
ed the middle world. This birth trans- 
formed the Cosmos into a structure con- 
sisting of three /ones or worlds orga- 
nized along the vertical. The deity in 
which the middle clement of this struc- 
ture is personified was at the same time 
the first man. He performed a number of 
heroic deeds to purge the planet from 
the chthonic monsters that incarnated 
the primeval chaos, and then the incest 
marriage with his own mother - Earth- 
water - resulted in the birth of three 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


sons who personified the three identical 
/ones of the material world of the entire 
Cosmos: the Sun-sky, the mountain and 
the water-earth depths. 

This event ended the purely cos- 
moginic part of the Scythian mytholog- 
ical cycle. The anthropogonic and the 
sociogonic plots developed later. The 
three sons of the first man marked the 
beginning of the existence of the Scyth- 
ian people, who inhabited the lands of 
Scythia that were still like a desert at 
that time. Each of them was the pro- 
genitor of a definite social category of 
Scythian society, of a caste group, this 
social structure reproduced the cosmic 
model. In the course of the trial sent to 
them by the gods, the belonging of each 
of the brothers to a concrete caste be- 
came clear and the divine sanctioning 
of the domination of the warriors in 
that social organization became appar- 
ent. The bringing of the progenitor of 
that caste closer to the sacred gold at- 
tributes that incarnated the triune fire 
deity, guaranteed the royal power over 
Scythia both to him and to his posterity. 
His sons started the Scythian institution 
of the three kings, its structure being 
called upon to reproduce the tripartite 
structure of the Cosmos. 

Through the story about the forma- 
tion of the natural and of the social 
Cosmos, this mythological cycle de- 
scribes its structure and thus serves as a 
means of expressing the widespread con- 
cepts in Scythia about the world order 
sent by the gods, and as a means of 
handing this knowledge down from one 
generation to the next. It was precisely 
the reference to the mythological prece- 
dents, to the fact that the structure in 
question originated from the fabulous 
times of the progenitors, which was in- 
terpreted in Scythia as evidence of the 
divine sanction for the protection of the 
stability and inviolability of this socio- 
political organization, which is a guar- 
antee for the welfare and flourishing of 
Scythian society. This organization was 

periodically rejuvenated by reproducing 
the first events 'from the beginning of 
the world" in the ritual acts performed 
during the regular religious festivities. 
In this way. throughout the entire Scyth- 
ian history, mythology was an ideologi- 
cal substantiation of quite topical and 
"contemporary" social institutions. Nat- 
urally, the social evolution of Scythian 
society introduced definite changes in 
that ideology and it underwent a perma- 
nent development. However, the charac- 
ter of the sources at our disposal allows 
to perceive the character and the content 
of these changes only in the least degree. 
Some aspect of this problem will be dis- 
cussed later in this book. 


The Mythological Concept about Space 


about Space 

In the previous chapter we became 
convinced thai the myths making up the 
genealogical cycle under consideration 
describe predominantly the vertical 
structure of the Universe and that usual- 
ly its tripartite organization was repro- 
duced in the hierarchic structure of 
Scythian social and political institutions. 
In order to obtain a relatively compre- 
hensive idea about the Scythian mytho- 
logical model of the world, it is now 
necessary to understand how the Uni- 
verse looked in its horizontal section, so 
to say. according to the widespread no- 
lions in Scythia. In other words, how the 
Scythians interpreted the macrospacc 
which they inhabited: the entire "land 
of the Scythians'-, that peculiar arena of 
events from their real and mythical his- 
tory, as well as even microspace in 
which all socially significant events took 
place. In order to understand the nature 
of the concepts dominating in this myth, 
it is necessary to gain a deeper insight 
into history. 

The striving to give a meaning to 
space and to "organize" it to some de- 
gree has been intrinsic to man since the 
earliest stages in his existence, having 
been guided predominantly by purely 
practical needs of orientation within the 
territory inhabited by each individual 
community. Initially, every time a man 
went out hunting, he had to think about 
returning safety to his relatives. Even at 
the dawn of his history, man made for 
himself a more or less permanent dwell- 
ing, which became a relatively stable 
point of orientation for movement in all 
directions. Every itinerary became move- 
ment "from home" with a subsequent 
"return home", to a definite point that 
was strictly localized in space. The en- 
tire system of movements of the mem- 
bers of a community represents the sum 
of vectors originating from one point, as 
a result of which the orientation of the 
sociurn in the space inhabited by it ac- 
quired a central-radial character as a 
whole. However, the need to repeat the 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


same itineraries again and again, to be 
able to determine in advance the direc- 
tion of the movement in each concrete 
case, and to create a comprehensive mod- 
el of the territory conquered by the com- 
munity, made this system of orientation 
insufficient. Parallel with the growing 
awareness of the radial character of all 
vectors of the itineraries, it became nec- 
essary to characterize each vector by 
means of concrete and sufficiently sta- 
ble features. The simplest way of attain- 
ing this goal was to associate each of the 
itineraries with real points of orienta- 
tion in Nature. This system, however, 
had a purely local effect and moreover it 
required the memorizing of innumer- 
able such guidelines and points of orien- 
tation. It could be applied and was prob- 
ably widely applicable for any concrete 
case, but a qualitatively new approach 
to space was required, if it was to be 
raised to a more general, "conceptu- 
al", level 

In order to create such general prin- 
ciples to describe space, that space - 
initially amorphous and homogeneous - 
had to be differentiated and structured 
to a certain extent, identifying some di- 
rections that could be used as guidelines 
in it. As E.Cassirer proved in the past, 
such a conceptual structuring of space is 
based on man's intuitive perceptions 
about his body and about the situation of 
the world surrounding him with a view 
to himself. And that perception created 
prerequisites for dividing the world 
around man (actually surrounding him. 
in the real sense of that word) into four 
sectors corresponding to the positions: 
"in front of me", "behind me", "on 
the right" and "on the left" (in fact. 
these are two pairs of opposite direc- 
tions). But in order to attribute a univer- 
sal and constant character to these four 
directions, which would not depend on 
the momentary position of the individu- 
al in space, the same quadripartite struc- 
ture was linked to the relatively stable 
and universal point of orientation in Na- 

ture, i.e. to the Sun's position in the sky 
at different hours of the day (later dur- 
ing different seasons as well). This led 
to the concept about the four parts of the 
world, which split the "Earth's circle" 
and gave it a definite organization. This 
concept has determined to this day both 
the way in which man finds his way in 
the space inhabited by him. and geogra- 
phy as a whole, irrespective of how ex- 
tensive the land accessible to human 
know ledge was during the different stag- 
es of history. According to E.Cassirer, 
there is no cosmology - however primi- 
tive - in which the opposing of the four 
cardinal directions in the world was not 
manifested in one way or another as a 
key principle for understanding and ex- 
plaining the world. The notion about the 
four sides of the world became a key 
clement in the interpretation of various 
aspects of everyday life. Hence different 
symbols were correlated with them. We 
already mentioned the four deities who 
acted as guardians of the four cardinal 
directions in the world, forming appar- 
ently the third level of the deities in the 
Scythian pantheon. Further below we 
shall examine the other ways used to 
mark the cardinal directions, widespread 
in Scythian culture. 

According to the mythological no- 
tions, the centre of the cross-like figure 
formed by the four vectors oriented to- 
wards the cardinal directions, was that 
point through which the axis munch 
passed. That axis represented the verti- 
cal organization of space. Thus the two 
subsystems of the spatial model of the 
world - horizontal and vertical - be- 
came united in a common structure. We 
shall note also that in the opinion of 
specialists, the summing of the "hori- 
zontal four" with the "vertical three", 
as structures reproducing the structure 
of the Universe in all its complexity, 
gave rise to the widespread idea about 
the week as a sacral number which fully 
corresponds to the image of the Uni- 
verse. This has found expression in the 


The Mythological Concept about Space 

mentioned Indo-Iranian tradition of wor- 
shipping the heptathcistic pantheon. 

Consequently, the notion about the 
horizontal structure of the world in ar- 
chaic cultures was determined basically 
by two moments: by its centric charac- 
ter, i.e. by the opposition between the 
centre and the periphery, and by the 
four cardinal and key directions, which 
could be correlated to the four directions 
of the world. However, mythological 
thinking attributed a specificity to that 
model; it perceived space organized in 
such a way as being nonhomogeneous 
in terms of both structure and quality. 
attributing positive or negative charac- 
teristics to its various parts. Such an 
interpretation is best explained for the 
centre and for the periphery. The centre 
- this is the localization of the individu- 
al perceiving space, and of the entire 
community to which this individual be- 
longed. Consequently, this is a familiar, 
mastered and relatively safe zone, this is 
"home". Naturally, positive character- 
istics were ascribed to this zone and it 
was opposed to even thing outside it. 
The further away man went from his 
"own world", the less protected he felt. 
the weaker his links with the communi- 
ty became, with all intrinsic modes of 
behaviour, customary or prompted by 
tradition, the more strongly he felt the 
unordered and chaotic beginning (from 
his point of view). The logical conse- 
quence of such a perception was the 
forming of the notion that there was a 
zone of absolute chaos near the outer 
limits of the world, opposing in every 
way man's "own" world. Hence the 
practically universal interpreting for ar- 
chaic cosmologies of the centre and the 
periphery as "same" and "alien", as 
order and chaos, life and death, humans 
and hostile daemons. In the centric sys- 
tem of the Universe, its different zones 
are characterized by a high degree of 
sacrality, depending on their distance to 
the centre. Somewhere near the end of 
the world was the entrance to the world 

beyond, the realm of death. Within the 
confines of mans "own" world, the 
proper centre was endowed with maxi- 
mal sacrality, being the point through 
which the worlds axis passes and in 
which the contact with the other zones 
of the vertical subsystem, and especially 
with the world of the gods, was most 
accessible. For this reason, it concen- 
trated everything that was sacred to the 
community: the sanctuary, the temple 
and the altar. 

The notion about the qualitative in- 
homogencity of space, characterizing its 
centric model, spread to the four sides 
of the world as well. Hence the areas 
localized in different directions from the 
centre also acquired positive or negative 
characteristics. However, a greater vari- 
ability of the concepts inherent to the 
different cultural traditions was observed 
in this sphere: too many factors (more- 
over l rans formed in different ways by 
mythological thinking) influenced the 
formation of the respective notions. As 
a whole, the archaic perception of space 
was characterized both by universal fea- 
tures, typical of different cultures, and 
by specific and strictly individual fea- 
tures. Whenever a mythology is exam- 
ined, it is necessary to reproduce the 
concepts that are inherent to in that re- 
spect in full detail. We shall examine 
Scythian tradition from this perspective. 

Let us start with an analysis of the 
monument in which the key aspects of 
Scythian mythology are sufficiently well 
visualized. Among the so-called Scyth- 
ian standards, whose purpose and ritual 
functions will be discussed a little later, 
it is interesting to note two practically 
identical specimens that had been found 
in different regions of Scythia. The stan- 
dard found near the present-day town of 
Dnepropetrovsk, from the Lysaya Gora 
barrow, is better preserved (Fig. 26). 
This is a bronze object which is attached 
to a vertical wooden staff by means of an 
insert. Its central element is a naked 
male figure placed on a small "pedes- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


Fig. 26. Bronze standard. 
Lysaya Gora 

taF' immediately above the insert, prob- 
ably the image of some Scythian deity 
Four little horns twisted to point out- 
ward start from this "pedestal" to form 
a cross. Figures of birds with spread 
wings are fixed on the tips of these horns 
(as well as above the head of the deity). 
Chains with little bells arc hanging from 
the wings and the beaks of the birds, as 
well as from the hands of the deity. In 
the middle part of each of the horns one 
can sec sculpted images of some ani- 
mals (wolves'?), which seem to be mov- 
ing from the centre in the four direc- 
tions. As a whole, the composition cor- 
relates well with the cosmological mod- 
el: the male figure personifies the centre 
of the Universe, i.e. the axismimdi\ the 
zoomorphic symbols serve to oppose the 
upper, celestial world (the birds) to the 
terrestrial one (the wolves); parallel with 
this, their repetition four times on the 
horns pointing to the four directions, 
attributes a horizontal structure to space. 
Opinions among Scythologists vary on 
the interpretation of the deity depicted 
on the standard. Ensuing from the cir- 
cumstance that his figure is slightly 
raised above the basis of the horns and 
is practically at the same level with the 
birds, he could be identified with the 
celestial deity Papaios. Conversely, as- 

suming that this deity served as an cle- 
ment linking the level of the Earth and 
that of the sky. being at the same time in 
the centre of the terrestrial world, then 
tins was more likely to be the personifi- 
cation of this world, i.e. the god and the 
first man Targitaos. The image lacks 
reliable diagnostic features that would 
give more weight to one interpretation 
compared to the other. 

Let us turn now to a different type of 
source. In describing Scythia. Herodotus 
(IV. 101) reports that it resembles a 
square, the length of each side being equal 
to a 20 days' journey or 4.000 stadia. 
According to Herodotus, the border of 
this "Scythian square" was the Pontic 
coast to the south, and to the east - the 
Macolis (the Azov Sea) and the Tanai's 
(prcs. Don) nvcr flowing into it. The 
southwestern corner of that square was 
the Istros (prcs. Danube) delta, and - 
judging by the context - this was the 
river perceived by Herodotus as the west- 
ern side of the "Scythian square" (cf. 
IV. 48). although actually the Danube 
flows mainly along the width of the 
square, not in a meridional direction. The 
historian has not given the geographic 
characteristics of the northern boundary 
of Scythia, reporting only its distance from 
the southern border on the sea, and list- 


The Mythological Concept about Space 

ing also the peoples through the lands of 
which this border passed. 

Researchers have repeatedly drawn 
attention to the circumstance that the 
parameters of the "Scythian square" ' do 
not coincide with a number of other data 
related to the distance between the dif- 
ferent Pontic regions and landscapes, 
contained in Herodotus 1 story. Besides, 
all attempts to plot the outlines of that 
square onto a real map have led far be- 
yond the real zone inhabited by the 
Scythians and the area of Scythian cul- 
ture, especially to the north. The actual 
emphasis on {he geometric description 
of Scythia is also noteworthy. For exam- 
ple, its southern - maritime - border is 
not a straight line at all. All this sug- 
gests that Herodotus did not present a 
real geographic picture, but a purely ar- 
tificial conceptual construct. But what 
was its origin? It has been claimed to be 
based on the cartographic skills of 
Herodotus and on his striving to order 
and organize the entire world described 
by him, attributing to ii a certain sym- 
metrical quality. However, such a clear 
gcomctrization of geography is not de- 
tected in any other part of Herodotus' 
narrative. According to another view- 
point, the historian introduced the con- 
cept of the "Scythian square" in order 
to illustrate better his descriptions of 
developments in the Scythian-Persian 
War. Indeed, the route of the two enemy 
armies, as described in the story of 
Herodotus (IV, 121-135), practically co- 
incides with the perimeter of the "Scyth- 
ian square": initially they moved from 
the Istros to the cast of its southern, 
maritime border. Then, having crossed 
the Tanai's, they turned north and passed 
through the lands of all those peoples. 
who - according to earlier information 
(IV, 100) - were adjacent to the "Scyth- 
ian square". Finally, turning south, they 
returned to Scythia and again came to 
the lower course of the Istros. However, 
bearing in mind that Herodotus undoubt- 
edly borrowed the information about the 

course of the Scythian-Persian war main- 
ly from Scythian oral tradition (which is 
confirmed by a number of specificities 
in his story), the natural assumption 
would be that the idea about the square 
contour of Scythia was not his, but that 
it could again be traced back to that 
tradition, reflecting the notions of the 
Scythians themselves about the configu- 
ration of their country. In the conscious- 
ness of the archaic communities, their 
own land was always a synonym of the 
ordered w odd. hence the passage of in- 
terest to us actually reflects Scythian cos- 
mological notions. In fact, the entire 
square was perceived as the simplest 
model of ordered space, if its structure 
was based on the same idea about the 
four sides of the world as cardinal direc- 
tions which characterize that world. 

We shall note likewise that the idea 
about the quadrangular land was appar- 
ently traditional to the ancient Iranians: 
it was also reflected in the geography of 
Avesla. where one of the countries cre- 
ated by Ahuramazda has been charac- 
terized in a similar way. It is curious 
that, according to Avesla, the native land 
of the mythical figure Tracthaona - fa- 
ther of three sons who defeated the ch- 
thonic monster Az. Dahak, i.e. the hero 
resembling Targitaos. who was born in 
quadrangular Scythia - also had qua- 
drangular outlines. 

If we accept the assumption about 
the cosmological sources of the idea on 
the "Scythian square", we should draw 
attention to one specificity of the no- 
lions about the geography of Eastern 
Europe, which were widespread in the 
ancient world. Describing the lands to 
the north of Scythia. Greek and Roman 
authors are unanimous about the exist- 
ence of a mountain range stretching in 
width, the actual Rhipaci Montcs, whose 
name - as we saw in the previous chap- 
ter - was related to the name of Li- 
poxais. the Scythian progenitor of the 
caste of priests. In fact, no such moun- 
tain range existed in Northeastern Eu- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


rope, and there is a growing certainty in 
modern research that this notion reflect- 
ed in a distorted form the vague knowl- 
edge of the ancient world about the Ural 
Mountains. G.M.Bongard-Levin and 
E, A.Grantovskiy have adopted an essen- 
tially different approach to the analysis 
of this evidence: having analysed all its 
variants in the ancient literature, they 
have detected in it striking coincidences 
with the mythological picture of the 
world, as it has been presented in the 
ancient monuments of Iran and India. 
Here. too. the notions about the moun- 
tains localized along the northern bound- 
ary' of the inhabitable world, arc rather 
stable and the characterization of these 
mountains is very eloquent, being simi- 
lar both in the Indie and in the Iranian 
tradition. On the one hand, tradition is 
linked to these mountains through per- 
fectly real natural phenomena which may 
be observed in the polar regions: the 
northern lights that last day and night 
for six months, the stable position of the 
North Star in the firmament, etc. On the 
other hand, purely mythological features 
can be perceived in the characterization 
of these mountains: they rise to the skies, 
the gods live on their highest peaks (it is 
not accidental that the polar day and 
night, each lasting for six months, are 
interpreted as the tk days and nights" of 
the gods), the celestial bodies move 
around them, all big rivers of the planet 
spring from them, and in the Milky Sea. 
which presumably existed beyond these 
mountains, there was an island identi- 
fied with the land of the blessed: no 
mortal person could reach that land, and 
whoever went there, could never return 
to lands inhabited by mortals. In other 
words, the northern mountains in the 
Indo-lranian tradition had all the char- 
acteristic features of the World Moun- 
tain, which in turn was one of the incar- 
nations of the world's axis: they formed 
the link between the world of human 
beings and the world of the gods in the 
vertical structure of the Universe. At the 

same time, they were the boundary be- 
tween the human world and the land of 
bliss beyond the grave in the 'horizon- 
lal projection' 1 of the Universe, 

All these characteristics can be found 
in the descriptions of the Rhipaei montcs 
and the adjacent lands, given by the an- 
cient authors. This has led Bongard-Levin 
and Granlovskiy to the conclusion thai 
the descriptions arc based on a Scythian 
tradition, whereby the common elements 
in such notions among the different Indo- 
I rani an peoples suggest that they were 
formed already at the time of the Aryan 
unity in places that were accessible for 
sufficiently reliable information about po- 
lar phenomena and where all major riv- 
ers flow from the north to the south: only 
such a geographic situation could con- 
tribute to the emergence of the notion 
about the high mountains stretching along 
the entire northern border of the inhabit- 
able world Only the territory of Eastern 
Europe meets these requirements, which 
is not unimportant for clarifying the acute- 
ly debatable issue about the exact local- 
ization of the original homeland of the 
Indo-Iranian peoples. However, at present 
we arc interested not so much in the im- 
portance of these observations for the solv- 
ing of the "Aryan problem", but rather 
in their contribution to the reconstruction 
of the Scythian mythological picture of 
the world. The Scythian notions reflected 
in the ancient literature suggest that tk hor- 
i /out a I space** in Scylhia was interpreted 
in connection with the notion about the 
vertical structure of the world, which was 
characteristic of Scythian mythology, 
while the mythical geography of the Scyth- 
ians served as a peculiar instrument for 
coordinating the vertical and the hori- 
zontal subsystems of the cosmological 
model. The southern border of the "Scyth- 
ian square" was simultaneously inter- 
preted as the lower border as well, being 
at the same lime the boundary between 
the inhabited world and the sea - the 
clement of the cosmic ' 'below", i.e. of 
the chthonic zone. Its northern boundary 


The Mythological Concept about Space 

was the peak of the inhabited land, and at 
the same time the mountains rising to the 
skies served as the abode of the gods (it is 
not accidental that they had the same 
names as the mythical progenitor of the 
priests). Even this characteristic feature 
betrays the notion about the qualitative 
inhomogencity of the North and South 
This becomes even clearer in the narra- 
tives of the peoples living to the north of 
Scythia, near the northern boundaries of 
the Earth. And finally, the foothills of the 
Rhipaci Montes were inhabited by the 
tribe of the Argippaioi. which - accord- 
ing to Herodotus (IV, 23) - was wor- 
shipped as being sacred and therefore 
none of the people ofTcndcd them The 
Argippaioi did not know wars, they were 
the most just, and they acted as interme- 
diaries in the settling of all disputes that 
arose among adjacent peoples, in addi- 
tion to prov iding refuge for cv cry person 
who sought their protection. According 
to the information in other ancient au- 
thors, beyond the Rhipaci Monies lived 
the blessed people of the Hyperboreans 
(information about them was available to 
Herodotus as well, but the rational mind 
of the father of history assessed I hem 
rather critically). The legends about the 
Hyperboreans became an integral clement 
of the ancient tradition, having merged 
with the authentic Greek mythological 
motifs, and more specifically with the 
Apollo cult. Nevertheless, they also be- 
tray the local colour, especially in the 
light of the cited Indo-Iranian notions 
about the Land of the Blessed, localized 
somewhere beyond the sacred northern 
mountains. The Hyperboreans were pre- 
sented precisely as such a blessed people 
in the stories about the northern neigh- 
bours of Scythia. It is also reported that 
the people had no access to the land of 
the Hyperboreans, because it was guard- 
ed by monstrous mythical creatures - grif- 
fins. In some ancient sources they arc 
described as lions having an eagle's head 
and wings, i.e. precisely the image which 
- as we shall see later - was vcrv widc- 

Fig. 27. Bronze cauldron from 

Fig. 28. Bronze cauldron from 
Razkopana Manila 

spread in the numerous monuments of 
Gracco-Scythian art. Scythian art is fa- 
miliar with other treatments of the fan- 
tastic griffins as well. According to the 
information in the works of the ancient 
authors, the Arimaspoi - the people who 
constant ly fought against them - lived in 
the neighbouring lands to the griffins. 
According to Herodotus (IV, 27), the 
name of these people in Scythian meant 
* one-eyed ". However, such an interpre- 
tation has not been confirmed by linguis- 
tic analysis, suggesting rather the pres- 
ence of the already familiar Iranian root 
asp(K meaning "horse" (incidentally, 
some ancient sources refer to animosity 
between griffins and horses; the same 
motif is known in the pictorial art of 
Scythia as well). The actual characteriza- 
tion of the Arimaspoi as one-eyed indis- 
putably stems from Scythian mythology. 
V.I.Abacv has compared this mythical 
people to the one-eyed giants in the Os- 
sctic epic tradition of the Vavugi, who 
guarded the entrance to the world be- 
yond. Similar motifs have been found in 
other Indo-Iranian traditions as well. The 
very circumstance that the Arimaspoi 
v\crc one-eyed corresponds to their local- 
ization at the borderline between the earth- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


ly world and the one beyond, because the 
mythology of the different peoples asso- 
ciates the world beyond with the notion 
of blindness, whereas the possession of 
one eye only was interpreted as a kind of 

Consequently, in the description of 
Scythia by the ancient geographers and 
writers one can discern a substantial layer 
concerning the mythological notions of 
the Scythians themselves about orga- 
nized space and about the qualitative 
inhomogeneity of its different zones. Is 
there any evidence about how the Scyth- 
ian environment interpreted the ' 'centre 
of the world", i.e. that point which pos- 
sesses the maximum sacral ity, through 
which the world's axis passes, and which 
- as was mentioned already - usually 
coincided with the main sacred place of 
one society or another? According to 
the evidence in Herodotus (IV, 59), the 
Scythians did not erect altars and tem- 
ples to their gods, with the exception of 
the altars dedicated to Ares in all re- 
gions, which were already discussed in 
the first chapter. As was mentioned al- 
ready, the structure of these altars re- 
flected the same notion about the struc- 
ture of space: it is manifested in the 

quadrangular configuration of the altar 
and in the presence of the sword thrust 
into it. performing the function of the 
axis of the world. Perhaps the ancient 
tradition has preserved for us the de- 
scription of some Pan-Seythian ritual 
centre as well? 

In this context it is interesting to 
consider yet another evidence given by 
Herodotus (IV, 81). According to his 
story, there was a time when the Scyth- 
ian king Arianlas wished to know the 
exact number of his subjects, so he gave 
orders to each Scythian to bring one 
bronze arrowhead, and from them he 
cast an enormous cauldron, which at the 
time of Herodotus was in the area called 
Exampaios. between the rivers Hypanis 
(Southern Bugh) and Borysthenes. Sim- 
ilar cauldrons (though much smaller) 
have been found frequently in Scythian 
barrows (Figs 27, 28). The story about 
the origin of the cauldron of Ariantas 
testifies that it was perceived as a Pan- 
Scythian sanctuary. The cup, the vessel 
(including the cauldron) are among the 
usual incarnations of the ' "centre of the 
world". The sacral character of the caul- 
dron in question is also confirmed by 
the circumstance that the Greeks referred 


The Mythological Concept about Space 

to the area where it was localized as the 
"Sacred Routes". Hence this cauldron 
was most probably placed in some sanc- 
tuary which was worshipped by all Scyth- 
ians. After analysing the evidence from 
the sources about this area, K.K.Shilik. 
specialist in historical geography of the 
Northern Pontic area, came to the con- 
clusion that it was most probably locat- 
ed at one of (he major crossroads on the 
ancient trade routes passing through the 
territory of Scythia and heading to the 
northeast, and he cites four places where 
this sanctuary could be feasibly local- 
ized. It was precisely at one of these 
points - close to the present-day city of 
Kirovgrad - that archaeologists studied 
a very interesting construction at the end 
of the 19th century. This was a large 
barrow, surrounded by piled up earth, in 
which there were four entrances form- 
ing a cross. Each entrance was shaped 
by a pair of additional embankments, 
which seemed to surround the road lead- 
ing to the barrow. Only the northern 
entrance to that construction was differ- 
ent, being surrounded by three pairs of 
embankments, not one. Judging by ev- 
erything, the central barrow of this elab- 
orate construction was not intended for 
burial purposes, on the analogy of most 
barrows in the Pontic region; the efforts 
of archaeologists to discover a burial 
here failed. Therefore, one should ap- 
parently seek some other ritual purpose 
of that barrow. 

It is interesting to note the direct 
association between the plan of the de- 
scribed construction and the discussed 
Scythian notions about the structure of 
space. It was essentially a gigantic cos- 
mogram. The central tumular embank- 
ment was the model of the World Moun- 
tain, one of the incarnations of the axis 
mundi. The four entrances to the space 
surrounded by embankments correlate 
with the four cardinal directions in the 
world. The monumental northern en- 
trance, however, was probably prompted 
by the widespread Scythian notion about 

the North as the zone where the gods 
lived. And precisely at the central point 
of such a construction, at the top of the 
L L World Mountain' *, one would expect to 
find the gigantic cauldron of king Arian- 
tas - the sacred vessel used for ritual 
ceremonies practised by all Scythians. 

Many Scvthologists claim that the 
most festive and important cult activi- 
ties of tltc Scythians, e.g. the calendar 
festivities described in the previous chap- 
ter, were performed in the sacred area of 
Exampaios. The described construction, 
which reproduces the structure of the 
Cosmos, may have been intended for 
these festive occasions. It is not possible 
to date this construction accurately. Only 
the objects from the disturbed burial, 
placed in the southern part of the ring- 
like embankment when the entire mon- 
umental construction already existed, tes- 
tify that at least it was not younger than 
the Scythian period. Unfortunately, the 
construction had not survived to our days 
and it is not possible to verify the pro- 
posed interpretation through a compre- 
hensive study. 

We saw the correlation of the myth- 
ological notions about space with the 
ideas of the Scythians about the land 
inhabited by them, about its configura- 
tion and about the qualitative character- 
istics of its various parts. However, the 
specificity of the archaic views about 
space consists in the fact that the struc- 
tural specificities ascribed to space as a 
whole were supposed to be inherent to a 
concrete microspace as well; each activ- 
ity could be successful only if it took 
place in organized space reproducing 
the structure of the Cosmos. If the terri- 
tory inhabited by the community was 
implied (the town, village or individual 
dwelling), only such a structure - ac- 
cording to the notions of ancient man - 
guaranteed the prosperity of that com- 
munity; if that was some sepulchral con- 
struction, it was needed in order to guar- 
antee the existence of the deceased in 
the world beyond: if it was a place where 

D. Ractskiy Scythian Mythology 


Fig. 29. Archers. Gold applique from 

some religious rituals were performed, 
the very compliance with that require- 
ment gave rise to expectations that the 
rituals would be successful. This required 
some preliminary rites which essentially 
transformed each such microspace into 
something like a model of the Cosmos, 
identifying for the purpose a point in it. 
which was functionally identical to the 
"centre of the world", surrounding it 
with the radial directions, marked in 
one way or another, and corresponding 
to the cardinal directions. 

Virtually no descriptions of such 
Scythian rites have been preserved in 
written sources about Scythia. Here it is 
possible to find only indirect hints about 
them, understandable only in the light 
of other data. However, monuments of 
pictorial art and some objects of a cult 
nature, analysed in the light of typologi- 
cal analogies, allows some insight inlo 
some of these ritual acts. 

Several gold appliques featuring the 
figures of two archers with their bows, 
standing with their backs to one another 
and shooting in the opposite directions, 
have been found in the already men- 
tioned Scythian barrow of Kul-Oba (Fig. 
29). It is not possible to decide what 
object in the burial was decorated with 
these appliques, because they were found 
near the tomb wall, mixed with other 

small items of adornment. Even data 
about how many of these appliques have 
been found arc lacking. Most probably 
they were used to decorate the curtains 
and the clothing hanging on the walls of 
the tomb. Nevertheless, the scene de- 
picted on these appliques merits our at- 

At first glance, this is a typically 
military episode. However, such an in- 
terpretation would seem totally uncon- 
vincing, if we look more closely into the 
depicted situation. The bow is a weapon 
suitable exclusively for fighting at a dis- 
tance, and its use is pointless if the ene- 
my has come so close to the soldiers and 
has surrounded them from all sides, so 
that they arc compelled to defend them- 
selves with their backs to one another. 
Apparently, such a scene would be un- 
thinkable in real battle. But is becomes 
sufficiently comprehensible, if it is ex- 
amined in the light of the rituals that 
existed among many ancient peoples. In 
India. China and Japan, as well as among 
the peoples of Africa, there was a prac- 
tice of shooting arrows to the four direc- 
tions of the world during different ritual 
ceremonies. Sometimes five or even six 
arrows (instead of four) were shot: ar- 
rows were sent both to the zenith and 
sometimes to the nadir, to the ground. It 
is casv to note that the direction in which 


The Mythological Concept about Space 

the arrows were sent coincided with the 
main vectors used in archaic cultures 
for organizing and structuring of the 
surrounding space. Such a choice of or- 
ganizing space is quite easily explain- 
able: it not only had to order a certain 
zone in space, but it also had to express 
the thought about its complete security 
and safety from all possible sides. 

Wc have every reason to assume that 
such a situation was depicted on the appli- 
ques of interest to us. Indeed, only a 
double and not a quadruple shooting has 
been shown here. But this is already a 
specific feature of the way in which picto- 
rial actions of this type were depicted: in 
the frontal composition it was rather diffi- 
cult to show figures facing not only to the 
right and left, but also to the onlooker and 
in the opposite direction. Moreover, this 
would have complicated the scene too 
much. As a rule, artists preferred to sim- 
plify such compositions, to reduce the ele- 
ments in them to only two symmetrical 
elements out of the essentially quadripar- 
tite structure. Later we shall come across 
other cases of such a reduction as well. 

We have no information about the 
cases in which the Scythians resorted to 
such a ritual mode of organizing space, 
which appears on the appliques from Kul- 
Oba. There is no doubt that the idea of 
security and safety was prominent, when 
the structure of the territory of the king- 
dom and accordingly the rituals connected 
with the personality of the king were im- 
plied. It is not accidental that the appli- 
ques in question were found in one of the 
so-called ' 'royal" Scythian barrows: all 
grave goods in the barrow of Kul-Oba 
show that some Scythian dynast was bur- 
ied there. Rituals similar to the one de- 
scribed were associated precisely with the 
king and his successor - in India, in Chi- 
na, and elsewhere. 

Nevertheless, we have an indirect ev- 
idence about such a semantic value of the 
arrows shot with a bow in a Scythian 
environment. It is contained in the re- 
peatedly cited narrative of Herodotus 

Fig. 30. Bronze standard from Ulskiy 

Fig. 31. A griffin. Bronte standard 

front the Krasnokutsk barrow 

about the Scythian-Persian War (IV, 126- 
135). When Darius, convinced of his mil- 
itary superiority over his enemy, asked 
the Sc>1hian king Idanthyrsos to surren- 
der and to show his humility by "coming 
to his master with land and water", the 
angry Idanthyrsos promised him not land 
and water, but such gifts as he deserved. 
And after waiting for the Persian army to 
fall into a sufficiently severe predicament, 
the Scythian king sent to Darius a bird, a 
mouse, a frog and five arrows. At first, 
the Persians were at a loss and did not 
know how to interpret these symbolic gifts: 
Darius himself was inclined to sec in 
them a sign of Scythian docility, but his 
followers interpreted them as a threat. 
The course of events later showed that 
the latter explanation showed the real 
meaning of the gifts sent by Idanthyrsos. 
The * Voomorphic symbols" included in 
these gifts will be discussed in the next 
chapter. As regards the fixe arrows, they 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


were directly correlated to the noted ritu- 
al acts and meant complete inviolability 
(from all sides) of the Scythians and of 
Scythia by the Persians, because they 
were protected by Scythian weapons. 

Scythian standards, which were 
mentioned briefly already, form anoth- 
er series of Scythian monuments con- 
nected with the rituals of the sacraliza- 
tion of space. This was the name used 
for bronze, less frequently iron objects, 
designed to be fixed to some stick, and 
often decorated with sculptures of some 
animal, an anthropomorphic figurine, 
or (very seldom) with an entire compo- 
sition with many figures (Figs 30, 31). 
Most of the standards also had a little 
bell with apertures, or hanging bells. 
Scythologists have been arguing for 
many decades about the functions of 
these objects. It was suggested that they 
should be viewed as distinctive features 
of the Scythian military leaders, as gad- 

gets to prevent the reins of the horses 
from becoming tangled, as decorative 
elements on the burial chariot or hearse, 
and even as musical attributes in sha- 
manic rituals. However, the majority of 
these explanations cannot account for a 
characteristic feature of Scythian stan- 
dards, namely the fact that they were 
usually found in definite numbers in the 
burials: one. two or (most frequently) 
four identical specimens, in many cases 
together with details from a horse's bri- 
dle. The comprehensive study of the con- 
ditions in which all Scythian standards 
from the complex had been found, of 
the way in which they were fixed to the 
staff, as well as the repertory of the pic- 
torial motifs decorating them, recently 
led E.V.Perevodchikova and the author 
of the present book to the conclusion 
that these objects crowded the ritual poles 
erected in the centre or in the corners of 
some microspace, and that they were 


The Mythological Concept about Space 

used to incarnate the so-called ' 'world 
pillars" or "world tree". The world 
tree was among the most important im- 
ages in the mythological picture of the 
world in the different archaic traditions. 
Its vertical structure is called upon to 
represent the vertical structure of the 
Cosmos: the roots of the tree correspond- 
ed to the lower, chthonic world, its trunk 
corresponded to the middle world, its 
crown - to the upper, celestial world. In 
the horizontal projection of the world, 
such a tree was perceived as being lo- 
calized in the central point, and it was 
considered to be one of the materializa- 
tions of the axis mundi; four additional 
trees were placed around the centre so 
as to form a cross, and they correspond- 
ed to the four sides of the world. In 
other words, the image of the world tree 
had to structure space again in accord- 
ance with the pattern discussed above. 
The ritual pillars crowned with Scyth- 
ian standards served to make some space 
sacral in that way, attributing to it a 
structure that imitated that of the Cos- 
mos. They were erected in the centre of 
that space (for example, such a central 
pillar was decorated by the cited stan- 
dard with the four horns from Lysaya 
Gora), or in the four corners. The space 
to be sacralized could be the platform 
intended for sacrifices and other ritu- 
als, the territory on which the burial 
had to take place, and even the chariot 
with which the deceased was driven 
around the lands of his clan prior to the 
burial. In a number of cases such ritual 
pillars performed simultaneously the role 
of sacrificial pillars as well, hence in 
ancient India the sacrificial pillar was 
directly interpreted as being equivalent 
to the world tree. The description of the 
sacrificial pillar given in the Rigi'eda 
(III, 8, 10) is very similar to a pillar 
decorated with a Scythian standard. In 
all probability, the use of such sacrifi- 
cial poles in the Scythian rituals ex- 
plains the numerous finds of standards 
(including in series of four specimens) 

together with details of horse-trappings, 
because horses were know n to have been 
the principal sacrificial animals in 
Scythia. Wc cannot state with certainty 
the time when the sacralization of the 
microspace took place by erecting ritual 
poles decorated with standards. There 
is no doubt that this practice was wide- 
spread in burial rites, but apparently 
not only there. For example, in the Car- 
pathian-Danubian basin, where the prac- 
tice of using Scythian-type standards 
was also quite popular, they were found 
almost invariably together with elements 
of horse-trappings, though - as a rule - 
not related to burials. It is possible that 
for the mobile military forces of the 
Scythians, penetrating into Central Eu- 
rope, the erecting of such pillars on the 
ritual platform replaced the traditional 
Scythian altars, from which the war- 
riors had been separated in the course 
of their long campaign into distant 

Wc examined the two ways in which 
Scythian culture reproduced the image of 
organized space, imitating the mytholog- 
ical cosmic model. It is perfectly obvious 
that the idea of cosmic order played an 
important role in the life of Scythian soci- 
ety. So far wc arc not familiar by far with 
all cases and ways of its updating. Spe- 
cialists arc about to undertake another 
interesting analysis of all burials, with a 
view to elucidating the links between the 
mythological understanding of space and 
the burial practices of the Scythians. The 
existence of such a link is corroborated 
even by the sufficiently stable orientation 
to the cardinal directions both of the actu- 
al burials, and of the sepulchral construc- 
tions in Scythia. as well as by the openly 
cross-like configuration of some of these 
constructions, notably the catacombs in 
the famous Chcrtomlyk circle. 

Perception of space was one of the 
key aspects of the mythological world out- 
look, and one of the essential ways of 
mastering it is to attribute to it a structure 
that would imitate the cosmic model. 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


So far we have considered numer- 
ous fragments from the ancient litera- 
ture, containing information about the 


Tfc mr ii m unw, iuiiui tiling iinui inmnjii auuui nit 

IVlVTnOiOffV Scythian narrative myths, or reflecting 

* ^* in one form or another the mythological 

nn/1 t\\ P A 11 1 111 51 1 concepts of the Scythians. In spite of the 

CH-lvl. l!lV' x Kllllllill crsirrilv anrS fraamr'nt arv nature* nf thf* 


scarcity and fragmentary nature of the 
available evidence, this analysis allows 
us to reproduce a sufficiently complete 
picture of typical Scythian notions about 
the structure of the Universe. It is not at 
all accidental that \vc have focused our 
attention precisely on that aspect of 
Scythian mythology, just as it is not ac- 
cidental that it has been best and most 
fully clarified in the available sources. 
This is explained with the role which 
cosmology played for the world outlook 
of the archaic peoples, whose spiritual 
and cultural life was generally deter- 
mined by mythological thinking. These 
people believed that the structure of the 
Cosmos was a kind of model which also 
gave meaning to and structured the world 
around man in all its manifestations. 
The elements of the Cosmos and the 
system of their interrelations was in a 
certain sense like a structural grid, its 
subdivisions being used for classifying 
the varied aspects of the Universe, and 
all these aspects, all cultural and natural 
phenomena, proved to be different codes 
reproducing the same structural config- 
urations as in the cosmic model, hence 
the correlated elements of these codes 
form semantic scries of synonymous 

We already came across such a phe- 
nomenon when we studied the Scythian 
narrative myths the tripartite structure 
of Scythian society, the system of the 
caste groups, the ternary structure of the 
political organization of Scythia, and the 
institution of the three kings are inter- 
preted in these myths as deriving from 
the ternary structure of the Cosmos, be- 
ing correlated with it. The intrinsic reg- 
ularities in the functioning of mytholog- 
ical thinking, discovered by modern re- 
search, lead to the assumption that other 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

cultural codes which existed in the Scyth- 
ian environment followed the same mod- 
el and were used to reproduce the same 
structural configurations and the same 
model of the world. From this point of 
view, it is necessary to examine one of 
the most brilliant manifestations of 
Scythian culture: the art of the animal 

At the very beginning it is neces- 
sary to make the term clear. The concept 
of "animal style", which has long be- 
come established in specialized litera- 
ture in connection with the art of the 
peoples from the Eurasian steppes dur- 
ing the Scythian period, has the disad- 
vantage of suggesting a cultural phe- 
nomenon whose specificity is manifest- 
ed above all in the sphere of form, i.e. in 
style - in the real meaning of this term. 
The stylistic manifestations of Scythian 
animalist art are indeed very original 
but the topic of this book compels us to 
leave aside this aspect of its character- 
ization and to examine the monuments 
of that art as an ideological, and not so 
much as a stylistic phenomenon. In that 
case, we should be interested in exactly 
those specificities in the mythological 
thinking of the Scythians, which led to 
the situation of invariable predominance 
of zoomorphic images in the repertory 
of decorative motifs in the pictorial art 
of this people, whereby even during cer- 
tain periods in the history of the con- 
crete ethnic community the repertory 
practically consisted of these motifs only. 
This has led some scholars to the con- 
clusion that the Scythians typically had 
some specific zoomorphic world outlook, 
but so far no definite explanation has 
been given cither of the roots of that 
phenomenon, or of its nature. For many 
decades Scythian animal style has been 
subjected to academic analysis, being 
moreover studied from various perspec- 
tives: as aesthetic appreciation and with 
a view to clarifying the semantic value 
of its images. However, if the artistic 
merits of Scythian animalist art are in- 

disputable for all scholars, there is in- 
comparably more debate than consensus 
concerning anything that is related to its 
semantic charge and to the very reasons 
for the total predominance of zoomor- 
phic motifs in the pictorial art of Scythia. 
Sometimes the same facts are given es- 
sentially different interpretations, oc- 
casionally these interpretations are mu- 
tually exclusive. The main opinions on 
this issues arc presented briefly below. 

The most frequent hypothesis is that 
magic underlies the art of the animal 
style: the images of the animals decorat- 
ing the warrior's attire and his horse 
were called upon to guarantee to their 
owner the qualities which these animals 
have: strength, dexterity, vigilance, etc. 
Another opinion is that this art reflects 
a totcmic system of notions: each ani- 
mal is treated as a totem-ancestor of a 
concrete Scythian clan or tribe, its im- 
age being the emblem or symbol of that 
tribe; the battle scenes between the ani- 
mals are interpreted in this hypothesis 
as a reflection of military clashes be- 
tween these tribes. According to another 
view, totemism only gave the initial im- 
petus for the emergence of the art of the 
animal style and the system of notions 
behind it, but at the beginning of the 
Scythian period it no longer determined 
the character of the people living in the 
Eurasian steppes at all; according to the 
supporters of this hypothesis, the ani- 
mals which originally performed the role 
of totems for the tribe, became trans- 
formed at that lime into intertribal dei- 
ties and formed a peculiar "zoomorphic 
pantheon" of the Scythians. There is 
another view, according to which the 
zoomorphic images in Scythian art were 
born from the notions about the diversi- 
ty in the incarnations of each deity, in- 
trinsic to all ancient Iranian cultures, 
whereas the scenes of the battle between 
these animals reflected the concept of 
dualism: the constant struggle between 
good and evil in the world, which de- 
fines the entire appearance of the Uni- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


verse and the processes taking place in 
it, similar to the interpretation of the 
struggle between Ahumarazda and An- 
gromanyu in the theology of Zoroastri- 

The launching of these hypotheses 
was paralleled in the specialized litera- 
ture by an analysis of their vulnerable 
points. For example, it was pointed out 
that totemism as a dominating system of 
notions was typical of a much more prim- 
itive stage of social development than 
that of the Scythians at the time of inter- 
est to us. The hypothesis that the battle 
scenes between the animals reflect the 
confrontation between the totems and 
the tribes incarnated by them, is unable 
to explain why throughout the entire 
space of the Eurasian steppes some tribes 
were always cast in the role of victors, 
while others were perpetually defeated. 
The hypothesis which interprets these 
scenes in the spirit of the Zoroastrian 
moral dualism leaves open the question 
why evil always dominates in the art of 
the Scythians. The reference to the typi- 
cal notion in ancient Iranian mythology 
about the infinite variety of divine in- 
carnations does not explain why Scyth- 
ian art concentrated forva long period of 
time on presenting only their zoomor- 
phic incarnations, and the conclusion 
that the Sqthians worshipped exclusive- 
ly the "zoomorphic pantheon" obviously 
runs counter to the content of the Scyth- 
ian myths preserved in the works of the 
ancient authors, where all principal char- 
acters are - as we are convinced already 
- anthropomorphic. 

In principle, each of the above hy- 
potheses outlines a theoretically feas- 
ible situation. A common weak point is 
that they all start with the premise based 
on considerations about the possible rea- 
sons for the widespread popularity of 
the zoomorphic images in the culture of 
an ethnic community; however, either 
no concrete data on the character of the 
spiritual life of the Scythians and on the 
content of their mythology are taken into 

account, or they are used to illustrate 
some preconceived theory. Incidentally, 
they should serve as the starting premise 
in the interpretation of the monuments 
of Scythian animal style. Indeed, if such 
an interpretation is likened to the deci- 
phering of some unfamiliar script, it can 
be said that the comparison of the entire 
range of monuments of Scythian animal 
art with the systematized and ordered 
evidence about the Scythian mythologi- 
cal picture of the world, gives us a kind 
of "bilingue", i.e. two different "texts" 
having identical content. Knowing the 
meaning of the parallel text - the recon- 
structed Scythian narrative mythology 
and the notion about the structure of the 
Universe incarnated in it - and having 
analysed the intrinsic regularities in the 
structure of works of art featuring the 
animal style, we can come very close to 
the best argumented "reading" of these 
works. Let us examine some of the as- 
pects of this interpretation. 

Researchers have found a long time 
ago that too many monuments of Scyth- 
ian animal art. known today, generally 
feature a rather restricted repertory of 
motifs. These are above all hoofed ani- 
mals: mostly stags, but also mountain 
goats. Most frequent among the animals 
arc the birds, especially birds of prey, 
and finally predators - mainly belong- 
ing to the feline family. The very fact of 
the predominance of three types of im- 
ages already suggests a comparison with 
the ternary nature of the Scythian model 
of the world. Such a comparison be- 
comes even more justified, bearing in 
mind that the study of different mytho- 
logical traditions has led specialists to 
the conclusion about the global propa- 
gation of the zoomorphic symbols of the 
three cosmic zones. As a rule, the upper, 
celestial world is associated with the im- 
age of a bird of prey, the middle zone or 
the human world - with ungulate ani- 
mals, the lower or chthonic world - with 
snakes or fishes. Such a symbolism is 
vcrv well visualized in the Eddie tradi- 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

Fig. 32. Head of a bird of prey. 

Bronze appliqe on a horse \v 
bridle. The "Seven Brothers" 
barrow group 

Fig. 33. A bird of prey. Bronze 

applique from the Golden 

Fig. 34. The head of a predator. 
Bronze applique from a 
horse \v bridle. The group 
of barrows near the village 
of Zhurovka 

tion of ancient Scandinavia, where the 
Universe was symbol i/cd by a tree 
Yggdrassills ash-lrcc. with an eagle liv- 
ing in its crown, a stag standing beside 
its trunk and nibbling from its branches. 
and a dragon below its roots. Sometimes 
the middle zone is associated with four 
stags, not one. placed on all sides of the 
tree, so that the image reproduces not 
only the vertical structure of the Uni- 
verse, but its horizontal structure as well 
- in accordance with the already famil- 
iar notion about the four sides of the 
world. The correlation of the three cate- 
gories of animals with the levels of the 
Universe is characteristic of many other 
traditions as well. It explains also the 
composition of the cited "zoomorphic 
gifts' * which Idanlhyrsos sent to Darius, 
which in their complexity designate 
Scythia, the fixe arrows symbolizing its 

The origin of this symbolism of the 
tripartite Universe is rather transparent. 

Birds are correlated with the top, with 
the sky, due to the character of their 
existence and the zone which they in- 
habit. The predominance of the motif of 
the bird of prey (Figs 32 and 33) can 
most probably be explained with the no- 
tion that the upper world was at the 
same time the world where people went 
after death, predators being an incarna- 
tion of the lethal principle. It is precise- 
ly the opposition between the bringing 
of death and death itself that has attrib- 
uted hoofed animals - which are perse- 
cuted by the predators - to the middle 
(corporal, mortal) world. Snakes are as- 
sociated with the lower world both be- 
cause this is the zone where they actual- 
ly live and because snakes arc lethal as 
well, the chthonic world being also the 
world of death. The idea about the two 
worlds in which the deceased persons 
continued to exist - the upper and the 
lower world - was rather stable in ar- 
chaic mythologies over a long period of 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


time. Only the explanation about why a 
person went to one world or the other 
varied. In the earlier periods, man's 
"itinerary" to the world beyond was de- 
termined by his social status, by the de- 
gree to which both he and the persons 
performing the burial rites adhered to 
the prescribed rituals, and finally by the 
character of his death. It was only much 
later, when the idea about the expiation 
of deeds committed in this world gained 
popularity, that the notion of man going 
to either heaven or hell was placed in 
direct dependence on his conduct while 
he still lived in this world. 

The general meaning of the picture 
of the world outlined by the examined 
zoomorphic images consists in the ex- 
pression of the idea about the constant 
interaction between life and death. The 
main characteristic feature of the 
"middle world" is that it is the world of 
mortal creatures. They constantly leave 
it to go to other worlds: to the gods and 

to the ancestors, who act not only as the 
rulers of the world beyond, but give new 
life as well, Hence the constant turnover 
of the vital processes, expressed in terms 
of the language of the zoomorphic im- 
ages in the system of interrelations of 
ungulate (herbivorous) animals with the 
animals bringing death (carnivorous). 

It is perfectly obvious that the reper- 
tory of images in Scythian animal style 
is almost identical to the range of 
zoomorphic symbols of the cosmic zone 
in the system characterized, being in 
turn so similar to the cosmology reflect- 
ed in Scythian myths. A difference is 
observed in only one clement: instead of 
the triad "bird - ungulate - snake 1 ', in 
Scythia we come across the triad "bird 
- ungulate - predator" (Fig, 34). Inci- 
dentally, Scythian mythology also reflects 
the links between the netherworld and 
the image of the snake, which appears 
in the semi-ophiomorphic rendering of 
the chthonic goddess (see the second 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

chapter of this book). However, the snake 
motif is quite rare in works of art exe- 
cuted in the animal style. Its substitution 
by the image of a predator is perfectly 
explicable: we are faced again with the 
incarnation of lethal nature, opposed to 
the world of the living. This was most 
probably influenced by another factor as 
well: for the population of the Northern 
Pontic area feline predators (practically 
absent from the region) were exotic ani- 
mals, alien to man's everyday reality; 
hence so much more suitable was their 
image to represent the "other" world in 
opposition to "this" world. The same 
fantastic, unrealistic element is observed 
in the symbolism of the upper world, 
which is associated not only with the 
bird of prey, but also with its modifica- 
tion - the fantastic griffin. We saw that 
in the mythological geography of 
Scythia, the land inhabited by the grif- 
fins was near the Rhipaei Montes, i.e. in 
that part of the Earth which is turned to 
the North, and hence "upwards". 

Hence the repertory of images in 
Scythian animal style correlates well with 
the globally propagated zoomorphic sym- 
bolism of the three zones of the Uni- 
verse, called upon to render the inherent 
characteristics of each of these zones in 
the mythological picture of the world. 
What is the correlation between this se- 
mantic value of the concrete content of 
the works of Scythian art, and what laws 
governed the creation of these works of 
art? A specific feature of the animal 
life, especially of its early monuments, 
was that they practically lacked any plot. 
any interaction between the various 
"characters". In the course of time (and 
apparently not without the influence of 
the ancient artistic tradition) plots be- 
gan to appear in the form of the combat 
scenes in Scythian art, which will be 
discussed again later. In the early stag- 
es, the only structural principle which 
interlinked the separate zoomorphic im- 
ages, was their arranging with respect to 
one another in the general space of the 

Fig. 35. A recumbent stag. Gold 

applique on a shield from the 
barrow near the village of 
Kostromskaya on the Kuban 

composition. Bearing in mind that these 
images, as we pointed out, had the pur- 
pose of designating the different cosmic 
zones with stable spatial ordering with 
respect to one another, such an ordering 
of the animal images transformed their 
totality into a kind of pictorial text, based 
on a "spatial code" and describing the 
structure of the Universe. The bird motif 
proved to be fixed to the top of the com- 
position, the hoofed animal - to its 
middle register, and the predator - to its 
lower part. But this structure was not 
absolute. For example, the circumstance 
that both the upper and the lower worlds 
were interpreted in Scythian mythology 
as being the abode of the dead and were 
designated by some predator, sometimes 
resulted in their merging in the mytho- 
logical picture of the world, which in 
that case acquired a bipartite structure: 
the world of the living was opposed to 
the world of the dead in its two manifes- 
tations: upper and lower. Such a merg- 
ing resulted in the appearance of para- 
doxical pictorial texts, in which the ele- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


ment which is semantically related to 
the cosmic ' 'above' ' - the bird of prey - 
is found in the lower part of the compo- 
sition, i.e. in a position corresponding to 
the netherworld. 

If works executed in the animal style 
are perceived as peculiar texts which 
describe through zoomorphic symbols 
the mythological picture of the world, it 
appears that a number of their specifici- 
ties are connected with the semanticism 
of the images, above all the traditional 
iconography of each type of animal. The 
strictly canonical rendering of the pos- 
tures in which each animal is depicted 
in Scythian art is one of its most charac- 
teristic features. Thus, for example, un- 
gulates appear most frequently with legs 
bent below their body (so that the hind 
and the front hooves appear to be one 
above the other) and with neck craning 
forward (Fig, 35). This posture is some- 
times referred to as the posture of "fly- 
ing gallop", the assumption being that 
the animal is shown at a moment of a 
big leap, or while running. However, a 

detailed analysis of all phases of the 
leap of a stag or of a mountain goat, 
visualized on film, shows that the ani- 
mal's legs are never drawn so close to 
the body simultaneously at any moment 
of this movement. Hence it would be 
much more logical to interpret such im- 
ages as representing lying animals. What 
is more, it has been proved that a simi- 
lar iconography of ungulates had per- 
meated the art of the Eurasian steppes, 
having come from the ancient Oriental 
artistic tradition, where animals in such 
postures arc presented in elaborate multi- 
figured compositions, e.g. stags or he- 
goats on cither side of the sacred tree. In 
the ancient Oriental tradition, such a 
symmetrical composition was probably 
born from the notion about the tree as 
an image symbolizing the centre of the 
world, with the two animal figures next 
to its trunk as a pattern reduced in ac- 
cordance with the law analysed earlier, 
being semantically identical to the four 
stags standing next to Yggdrassill's ash- 
trcc in the Eddie tradition. 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

Symmetrical compositions some- 
times occur in Scythia as well, above all 
on objects executed following the an- 
cient Eastern traditions, or even made 
by ancient Eastern craftsmen on Scyth- 
ian order. For example, the central cle- 
ment in the composition decorating the 
hilt of the parade sword from the rich 
Early Scythian barrow Litoy (Mclgunov) 
Kurgan, which clearly betrays Urartcan 
elements, is the stylized rendering of the 
sacred tree, goat figures with bent legs 
being placed on cither side of the tree. 
Special attention should be given to the 
circumstance that this decoration was 
chosen for a sword particularly. Earlier 
wc mentioned Herodotus' story about the 
sword which was thrust into the altar as 
the symbol of the Scythian Arcs. It was 
also mentioned that such an altar repro- 
duced the model of the axis mundi, i.e. it 
was functionally identical to the world 
tree. In the composition under consider- 
ation, the schematic picture of the tree 

is strictly along the central line of the 
sword itself, thus the object and its dec- 
oration prove to be scmantically identi- 

All this suggests that the posture of 
the hoofed animal, which was custom- 
ary to Scythian animal style, correlated 
well with the symbolism of that animal 
as a designation of the middle world, i.e. 
the spatial /one near the trunk of the 
world tree. In Scythia this motif seems 
to break away from the multi-figured 
ancient Eastern composition that gave 
birth to it. though preserving the origi- 
nal semantics. Such an interpretation 
finds visual confirmation in the gold 
disc which was an clement in the deco- 
ration of horse-trappings found in one 
of the Kclcrmcs barrows (Fig. 36). This 
disc is divided by perpendicular lines in 
relief into four identical sectors, each of 
which contains the figure of a stag in 
the described posture and with a head 
facing the middle line. Here it is easy to 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


read the same semantics which was char- 
acteristic of the decorative motif with 
the four stags around the world tree in 
the Eddie tradition: the round shape of 
the applique symbolizes space, its cen- 
tre coincides with the centre of the world, 
and the figures of the animals are corre- 
lated to the cardinal directions of the 

Apparently, the isolated images of 
the hoofed animal in the indicated pos- 
ture (and they predominate in Scythian 
art) had preserved their original mean- 
ing in the composition that gave birth to 
that iconography, and corresponded to 
the importance of that image as a sign 
of the middle cosmic zone. 

The iconography of the predator, 
which was quite common in the art of 
the Scythians and of the entire region of 
the Eurasian steppes, is very original: it 
is often depicted curled in a ball (Fig, 
37), so that his head is touching its tail, 
while the legs bent close to the body arc 

Fig. 36. Gold applique from a horse* s 
bridle. Kelermes harrows 

Fig. 3 7. A curled up predator. Hone 
plaque from Temir-Gora 

in the circle formed by the animal's 
body. Some researchers assume that a 
similar pictorial interpretation resulted 
from the shape of the objects decorated 
with such images, i.e. its genesis was 
purely formal. However, the assumption 
put forward earlier in the book about 
(he semantics of the predator's image in 
Scythian art allows us to disagree with 
such an interpretation and prompts us 
to attribute a definite semantic charge 
to that convention Let us recall that 
according to that interpretation, the 
predator's image occupied that place in 
the zoomorphic symbolism of Scythia, 
which in other traditions belonged to 
the snake, i.e. predators were correlated 
with the netherworld. Incidentally, such 
a posture is characteristic precisely of 
the snake, not only in pictorial art, but 
in the myths of the different peoples as 
well, moreover being endowed with pre- 
cisely the same semantic value. For ex- 
ample, in Scandinavian mythology there 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

is the gigantic world dragon who lives 
in the ocean that surrounds the entire 
Earth; the dragon is holding his tail be- 
tween his teeth, so that his body forms a 
circle. In other words, that dragon is a 
creature encircling the inhabitable world 
and identical to its outer, peripheral con- 
tour. Parallel with this, according to the 
same Scandinavian tradition, the drag- 
on lives in the roots of the world tree. 
Such a coincidence is not at all acciden- 
tal. In the previous chapter, when wc 

analysed the mythological notions about 
space, we noted that the periphery in the 
horizontal subsystem of the cosmic model 
is semantically identical to the lower 
part in its vertical subsystem, because 
both correspond to the chthonic world. 
This is why, in the Eddie tradition these 
two zones arc designated by the same 
zoomorphic symbol, i.e. the dragon. If 
in Scythia the predator is associated with 
the same nether world, the "ring-like" 
posture is more than appropriate for it, 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


Fig. 38. Gold sheath of a sword. 
Melgunov (Litoy) harrow 

because - similar to the Scandinavian 
dragon - it also surrounded the inhabit- 
able world and symbolized its peripher- 
al zone. 

Such an interpretation of the differ- 
ent zoomorphic images in Scythian ani- 
mal style can be best confirmed by their 
positioning in the decorative system of 
Scythian swords and of their sheaths - 
the equivalent of the world tree and of 
the world's axis (Fig. 38). As a rule, the 
stag's figure here is in its broad middle 
part, 4t near the trunk" of the tree. The 
figure of the curled up predator is the 
usual decorative motif for the lower tip 
of the sheath. However, the sword itself 
was often decorated with the heads of 
birds of prey. Thus, the positioning of 
the three zoomorphic motifs - bird, un- 
gulate and predator - along the sword's 
axis corresponded precisely to the posi- 

tioning of the three zones of the Uni- 
verse represented by these animals with 
respect to one another; the postures of 
the animals also correspond to that se- 
mantic interpretation. A similar posi- 
tioning of the two motifs - stag and 
predator - is found in the decoration of 
some Scythian bronze mirrors having a 
long handle: the stag's figurine is placed 
at the juncture of the handle to the disc, 
the predator's figure being in the lower 
part of the handle Here the zoomorphic 
symbols mark only the two zones of the 
Universe: the middle and the nether 
world. In all probability, the upper, ce- 
lestial world was probably designated in 
this case by the actual disc of the mirror, 
interpreted as the Sun. 

A curious variant of the spatial dis- 
tribution of the individual zoomorphic 
motifs in the composition as a means of 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

expressing their semantics is the placing 
of these motifs on the body of a larger 
animal, more specifically the shaping of 
some parts of its body as additional 
zoomorphic motifs. In Scythian studies 
this approach is known as zoomorphic 
metamorphoses. Thus, the stag's antlers 
can be interpreted as the heads of birds, 
the additional small figures arc some- 
times placed on the animal's shoulder, 
hip. hind part or even on its tail. This 
approach is most probably based on the 
so-called corporal or anatomical code. The 
use of separate parts or even of whole 
zones of the human or animal body as 
symbols of the elements of the Cosmos 
was extremely widespread in archaic cul- 
tures, whereby the correlation of the ele- 
ments of the anatomical and of the cos- 
mic codes was practically universal even 
for perfectly unrelated cultural traditions. 
For example, the head is usually inter- 
preted as a sign of the cosmic "above", 
of the sky. The lower, chthonic world is 
designated by the lower (or posterior) part 
of the body, whereas the middle part of 
the body stands for the middle cosmic 
zone. Such a cosmological interpretation 
of the human body is best illustrated by 
the popular Old-Indie myth about Purusa 
(Rigveda, X, 90): the giant from various 
parts of whose body the gods created the 

various elements of the world in the course 
of a grandiose sacrifice, the different so- 
cial groups, the Varnas, etc. Another In- 
die Ritual text - Brihadamiaka Upan- 
ishada (I. 1) - reflects the correlation of 
the parts of the body of the sacrificial 
horse with the different zones of the Cos- 

It is obvious that such an enormous 
cosmic body should be the interpreta- 
tion of the animal images in the works 
of Scythian animal style, with addition- 
al motifs - zoomorphic metamorpho- 
ses - being placed on them. This re- 
veals a kind of synonymy (semantic 
identity) between the member of the 
cosmic body which is decorated with 
the additional image and the actual dec- 
orative motif. For example, the tail and 
the ends of the paws of the famous 
panther from Kclcrmcs - a gold appli- 
que on a shield - arc treated as minia- 
ture images of the same predators, but 
curled up in a ball (Fig. 39). Here the 
same idea of the cosmic "below" is 
expressed in three parallel ways: 
through the choice of an animal whose 
image is used as a zoomorphic meta- 
morphosis, through the posture of that 
animal, and finally through the parts of 
the body from the figure: background 
(posterior part = below), decorated with 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


these metamorphoses. Several Scythian 
barrows have yielded large bronze ap- 
pliques, their figures resembling a wolf 
curled in a ball (Fig. 40). The shoulder 
blade of this beast (the middle cosmic 
zone) is additionally decorated with the 
picture of a goat's figure and with an 
elk's head, i.e. hoofed animals symbol- 
izing the same zone, while the ends of 
the paws arc shaped to resemble the 
heads of birds of prey, i.e. an example 
of the paradoxical merging between the 
upper and the lower world of the dead. 
Actually, this is an example of the par- 
allel use of different codes for express- 
ing the same structure. 

Such a parallelism is generally rath- 
er characteristic of the mythological 
texts, even of narrative ones: for exam- 
ple, the hero's name corresponds seman- 
tically to his origin, to his nature, to the 
meaning of the deeds performed by him. 
to the entire plot of the myth, etc C.Levi- 
Strauss defines this peculiarity as "lam- 
inar structure of the myth". At first 
glance, it creates a certain redundancy 
of the information invested in the myth- 
ological text. In fact, the use of this 
approach - and this is particularly ap- 
parent in our case with the zoomorphic 
works of art - has resulted in a peculiar 
"polyfunctionality" of each mythologi- 

39. "Panther". Gold applique to 
a shield. Kelermes barrows 

Fig. 40. A curled up predator. 
Kulakovskiy's barrow 

cal text, and a simultaneous correlation 
with the different aspects of the Uni- 
verse. This also shows the universal char- 
acter of the structures reproduced, the 
text itself being transformed into a re- 
production of the model of the world in 
the entire range of its manifestations. 

The anatomical code analysed ap- 
parently underlies yet another technique 
which was typical of the Scythian animal 
style, nameiy to depict not the animal's 
entire body, but only a part of it, more- 
over usualh' choosing precisely that part 
which is scmantically identical to the an- 
imal's image. For example, if the preda- 
tor's hind legs are depicted, this is a 
double expression of the idea of the lower 
cosmic world, the heads of the birds of 
prey being a double incarnation of the 
upper zone of the Cosmos. Incidentally, 
this explanation is not by far relevant to 
all types of individual depicting of the 
animal's head, which are characteristic 
of every zoomorphic image represented 
in the repertory of the animal style. This 
may be explained with the circumstance 
that the head has long been interpreted 
as the centre of the essence, as a full- 
blooded equivalent of the entire creature. 
This was manifested in different spheres 
of culture, e.g. in sacrifices, where the 
head symbolizes the entire animal which 


Scythian Mythology and the Animal Style 

Fig. 41. An elk figure on the talons of 
a bird of prey. Bronze 
applique from horse- 
trappings. Barrow group near 
the village of Zhurovka 

is being sacrificed. 

A curious example of the merging of 
the zoological and anatomical codes can 
be seen in the composition on the appli- 
que of horse-trappings, found in the for- 
est-steppe course of the Dniepr river: a 
small figure of an elk in the typical pos- 
ture for ungulates - with legs bent under 
the body - appears on something like a 
pedestal, formed by the rendering of the 
claws of a bird of prey (Fig. 41). This is a 
visualization of the binary interpretation 
of the structure of the Universe: the world 
of the living is opposed to the world of 
the dead, the first being designated by the 
entire figure of the animal correlated with 
it, the second - with an individual part 
(particularly lethal) of the zoomorphic 
image symbolizing it. 

In spite of the canonical nature of 
Scythian animal style, the concrete solu- 
tions of the ideas contained in it are rath- 
er varied, and by far not all of the numer- 
ous monuments known to us can be abso- 
lutely decoded. For example, we are still 
unable to explain what determined the 
choice of the hoofed animal - stag, elk or 
he-goat - in each concrete case. The na- 
ture of the composition of such pictorial 
texts is not always clear. However, as a 
whole, we can state with certainty that 
these works of art demonstrated the ex- 
istence of something like a zoological 

code in Scythian culture, as one of the 
means of describing the Universe. A sim- 
ilar symbolism of zoomorphic images was 
extremely widespread in archaic cultures. 
One cannot rule out the possibility its 
roots to be traced back to the concepts of 
totcmism. but such totemic zoological 
classifications outlived by a long time 
totcmism as a comprehensive world out- 
look system. 

However, the use of the zoological 
code to describe the Universe, which 
was essentially a global phenomenon 
during the antiquity, cannot explain by 
itself the determining role which the an- 
imal style acquired in the life of the 
Scythians. The specificity of Scythia con- 
sists in the fact that the language of the 
zoomorphic images, based on the zoo- 
logical code, actually became the only 
sign system on which its pictorial art 
was formed. In order to clarify the roots 
of this phenomenon and to bring its ex- 
planation in line with everything that is 
known about Scythian mythology, it will 
be ncccssary r to analyse comprehensive- 
ly all works of pictorial art known to us, 
which existed in the Scythian environ- 
ment, in all their diversity, with a view 
to identifying the place of works in the 
animal style among them. An attempt to 
cope with this task will be made in the 
next chapter. 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


of the 

Scythians in 
Visible Images 

In the chapters of the book devoted 
to the reconstruction of the Scythian 
mythological narrative, we periodically 
turned to monuments of the visual arts, 
in addition to the evidence in the works 
of the ancient authors, which serve as 
the main source for its reconstruction. 
However, these are essentially scenes 
predominantly, and their content is di- 
rectly associated with the fragments of 
Scythian myths preserved in the Grae- 
co-Roman literature. Images of a dif- 
ferent nature have been adduced only to 
an insignificant degree in the course of 
the presentation of the material. Inci- 
dentally, the study of Scythian mythol- 
ogy requires to devote attention to all 
known Scythian pictorial monuments, 
because they can add substantially to 
our knowledge about Scylhia. Moreover, 
it is these materials that are actually the 
only source reflecting the historical be- 
ing of Scythian mythology in dynamics 
and allowing to trace the role it played 
in the life of Scythia during the differ- 
ent stages of its history lasting four cen- 
turies. In fact, it is not possible to per- 
ceive this dynamics when analysing the 
ancient texts, because they often repro- 
duce not the living contemporary tradi- 
tion, but rather repeat evidence that is 
isolated from its historical context, hav- 
ing been borrowed from considerably 
earlier sources. Consequently, the task 
of this chapter will be the comprehen- 
sive analysis of works of art which orig- 
inate from the Scythian complexes and 
whose content is related to Scythian 

Many specificities in the history of 
the existence of monuments of this type 
in Scythia have been predetermined by 
that specific cultural phenomenon, 
which was briefly referred to in the in- 
troductory part of the book: by the orig- 
inal aniconism of the oldest Indo-Irani- 
an culture. Researchers have for a long 
time focused their attention on the ab- 
sence of pictorial works of art in the 
culture of tribes living over most of the 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

Eurasian steppe belt in the Late Bronze 
Age, and claiming - with the highest 
degree of plausibility, according to mod- 
ern research - the right to play the role 
of Proto-Indo-Iranians. Very fruitful ar- 
chaeological excavations over that area 
for many years testify perfectly convinc- 
ingly that the culture of these peoples 
was equally not characterized by images 
of either people, or animals, or any real 
objects for that matter. Indeed, in rare 
cases researchers have found there iso- 
lated sketches with such a content on 
the wall of a clay vessel or on some 
stone slab, but the actual level of execu- 
tion only confirms the view about the 
basically aniconic character of the cul- 
ture of these tribes, because it proves 
that they completely lacked any habits 
or traditions in the sphere of pictorial 
art. Specialists have noted justifiably that 
this does not mean in the least that these 
peoples were not creative, because their 
inherent creative potential could have 
had manifestations in other spheres: in 
oral speech, in music, in dancing, etc. 
Bach concrete culture had different de- 
grees of realization in the various 

The reported data correlate well with 
all available evidence about the early 
cultural history of the different peoples 
belonging to the Indo-Iranian group. 
Judging by everything, the Indo-Ary- 
ans, who went to Northern India to- 
wards the end of the 2nd millennium 
BC, did not bring with them any tradi- 
tions in the sphere of pictorial art, but 
their language became the basis on which 
the languages in the region surviving to 
this day were formed, whereas the ele- 
ments of their folkloric heritage arc still 
alive in the creativity of Indian narra- 
tors of folklore, largely shaping the en- 
tire outlook of Indian culture. The tribes 
speaking the Iranian language, which 
moved around the beginning of the 1st 
millennium BC to the territory of 
present-day Iran and to the adjacent area, 
accepted all habits in the sphere of the 

visual arts from the indigenous popula- 
tion in these territories, or from the 
neighbouring ethnic communities, while 
their contribution to the language, my- 
thology and religion played a formative 

The Scythians - that branch of the 
Indo-Iranian ethnic massif, which re- 
mained within the confines of their origi- 
nal homeland - were similarly unfamil- 
iar with the visual arts in the dawn of 
their history*. During the so-called Cim- 
merian period, the objects belonging to 
the material culture of the Northern Pon- 
tic population were decorated only with 
monotonous geometric ornamental mo- 
tifs. They most probably coded definite 
notions about the structure of the world 
as well, but the key to this code has not 
been found yet. 

The changes in that sphere occurred 
during the second half of the 7th centu- 
ry BC and were most probably connect- 
ed with two events of Scythian history. 
First, the foundations of the socio-polit- 
ical structure that was to be characteris- 
tic of the Scythian kingdom during the 
subsequent centuries were laid precisely 
at that time as a result of different Pon- 
tic tribes being subordinated to the Roy- 
al Scythians (Scythians proper, Skolotoi 
- see the Introduction). The traditional 
Indo-Iranian social organization with its 
centuries-old history was replaced by a 
new and more pronounced hierarchy and 
social organization of the different parts 
of society: during that period, the Scyth- 
ians found themselves on the threshold 
of class society. Second, the Scythian 
tribal union undertook an incursion into 
Western Asia, which also contributed to 
essential changes in the level of its so- 
cial development, and accelerated the 
formation of a hierarchically organized 
society. Naturally, the qualitatively new 
relations were interpreted in terms of 
the categories of the mythological mod- 
el of the world that had long been inher- 
ent to the ancestors of the Scythians, but 
with an essentially different distribution 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology' 


Fig. 42. Guardian deities near the 

sacred tree. A detail from the 
decoration of a sheath found 
in Melgunov' s barrow 

of the accents, hence the changes taking 
place in that sphere required new ways 
of visualizing the traditional system, new 
sign systems, capable of reproducing the 
system of values that was taking shape. 
The old ornamental art was incapable of 
coping with that task. Incidentally, the 
peoples of the Middle East, with which 
the Scythians had close contacts at that 
time, had long been in the possession of 
rich traditions in the artistic rendering 
of mythological images. It was precisely 
from that arsenal that the Scythians bor- 
rowed some motifs and laid the founda- 
tions of their own art, and in the first 
place of the animal style. 

The process of the formation of 
Scythian animalist art on an ancient 
Eastern basis has been analysed in de- 
tail by many Russian scholars: M.I.Ar- 
tamonov, MLVyazmitina, V.G. Luko- 
nin, B.B. Pyotrovskiy, and others, who 
found a substantial Eastern element in 
Early Scythian monuments of the type 
of the Kclermcs or Melgunov barrows. 
However, they did not pay sufficient at- 
tention to the fact that initially the Scyth- 
ians borrowed not only animal images, 
but anthropomorphic motifs as well, 
from the foreign cultural pictorial reper- 
tory. Consequently, the content of Early 
Scythian art correlates poorly with the 
theory about the specific zoomorphic 
world outlook of these people and about 
the exclusively "animal pantheon"\vhich 

they worshipped. It seems more likely 
that the ornamentation of the objects 
found here, consisting of zoo- and an- 
thropomorphic motifs, was intertwined 
with the already reached conclusions 
about the character of Scythian my- 

The Scythians borrowed the motifs 
for their emerging art from Urartu, from 
Assyria and from the Greek settlers in 
Asia Minor. Moreover, they did not ac- 
cept them mechanically at all. From the 
entire wealth of images inherent to these 
cultures, they selected naturally only 
those that could be interpreted more or 
less successfully as the incarnation of 
genuinely Scythian mythological 
images. For example, the scabbards from 
the Melgunov and from the Kclermcs 
barrows (Fig. 42), as well as the sword 
from Kclermcs. arc decorated with a 
composition that is typical of Assyrian- 
Urartcan art: two winged cherubs on 
cither side of the sacred tree. This is one 
of the variants of the symmetrical com- 
position analysed earlier, incarnating the 
notion about the centric organization of 
space and about the deities guarding the 
four directions of the world. It is not 
accidental that this motif was used in 
Scythia to decorate a sword, i.e. one of 
the equivalents of the world's axis. In 
this way. the decoration on the object 
doubled the mythological idea, expressed 
in the ritual function of the object itself 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

What is more, the artist who made this 
ornamentation following Scythian or- 
ders, modified somewhat the traditional 
ancient Eastern configuration, by plac- 
ing two additional images of trees on 
both sides of the central element, thus 
creating an adequate rendering of the 
notion typical of the Indo-Iranians about 
the organization of space and about the 
trees which are correlated with each car- 
dinal direction; let us recall the poles 
decorated with standards in the Scyth- 
ian ritual. 

Another anthropomorphic image 
which attracts our attention is the image 
of a centaur carrying on his shoulder a 
whole tree with a killed stag tied to it, 
on the silver rhyton from Kelermes. To 
this day, the ability to carry such a big 
load is considered in Ossetic folklore as 
a sign of the hero's great strength. Could 
this be one of the cases in which the 
Ossetic tradition has preserved some 
mythical-epic motif that can be traced 
back to the Scythian period? 

In the third chapter we mentioned 
the human figure holding an axe in his 
hand, decorating the gold axe from the 
same Kelermes barrow, which we inter- 
preted as the image of the progenitor of 
the Scythian kings Kolaxais. B.B.Pyot- 
rovskiy drew attention to the fact that 
the image was based on a traditional 
image in ancient Eastern art - that of a 
cherub near the sacred tree; however. 
there are certain changes: the wings have 
disappeared, and instead of the usual 
sacred attribute, the man is holding a 
battle-axe - a much more appropriate 
object for a Scythian hero. 

The silver mirror found in the 
Kelermes barrow has a much more in- 
tricate decoration (Fig. 43). Its surface 
is divided into eight equal sectors, each 
containing various figures following the 
traditions of Early Ionic art. Anthropo- 
morphic images alternate here with im- 
ages of animals which are very close to 
works of art in the Early Scythian ani- 
mal style. According to the observations 

Fig. 43. The silver mirror from 

of specialists, although the mirror was 
made by an Ionic and not by a Scythian 
craftsman, it should be considered as a 
Scythian monument both in form and in 
terms of the ideology which it reflects. 
Unfortunately, we cannot decipher fully 
the meaning attributed in the Scythian 
environment to the images decorating 
the Kelermes mirror. The decoration of 
this object most probably reflected Scyth- 
ian calendar and spatial-geographic no- 
tions; similar themes arc exclusively 
characteristic of the motifs which de- 
corated the ancient mirrors. 

Some specificities of the arrange- 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


merit of the decorative motifs on the 
mirror from Kelermes seem to confirm 
such an assumption. For example, one 
of the sectors contains a scene in which 
two nude male figures with hairy bodies 
are fighting against a griifin. The motif 
reflecting the struggle of semi-fantastic 
human beings with griffins is already 
known to us in Scythian mythology: this 
is the story of the Arimaspoi who lived 
far in the North. Then, this sector in the 
decorative pattern of the mirror should 
be correlated with the North and with 
that season when the Sun moves to the 
North, i.e. with the summer. The dia- 

metrically opposite sector features the 
image of the winged goddess holding 
two lions by the front paws; this is the 
so-called Potnia Theron - a deity whose 
image was very popular in the ancient 
Eastern and Ionic iconography. If the 
first motif has been correctly correlated 
with the North, then this goddess should 
be perceived as a symbol of the South, 
which in the Scythian picture of the world 
is correlated in turn with the cosmic 
"below". The image of the predator - 
accompanying the goddess in the com- 
position in question - is also connected 
with that zone of the Cosmos in Scyth- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

ian zoomorphic symbolism. Could this Scythian monuments arc indisputable 
be the first attempt to render the Scyth- evidence that at the time when the Scyth- 
ian chthonic goddess with the means of ians felt the need to express their myth- 
expression of the visual arts - the same ological concepts in terms of pictorial 
goddess who was later depicted as a art. this was done with images borrowed 
snake-like creature? (Incidentally, the from the repertory of the Eastern (Ionic 
iconography of that creature also reveals included) art. being even subjected to 
features that can be traced back to the partial processing. However, these im- 
image of the Potnia Thcron - let us ages, which came originally from an 
recall the snake-legged goddess holding alien culture, survived for a relatively 
the horns of the monstrous dragons from brief period of time in a Scythian envi- 
thc horse's head-piece from the Bolshaya ronmcnl. i.e. apparently only as long as 
Tsymbalka barrow, cited earlier) In that Ihc Scythians had preserved their direct 
case it would be logical to attribute this contacts with the ancient Eastern cul- 
sector in calendar terms to winter, when tural environment, or while the crafts- 
the Sun goes to the nether world. men brought to Scythia after the cam- 
In those sectors of the Kclermes mir- paigns into Western Asia lived. Anthro- 
ror, which are strictly localized between pomorphic motifs disappeared from 
the two sectors considered, the same Scythian art not later than the middle of 
motif recurs: a pair of winged sphinxes the 6th century BC. 
with female protomes and leonine bod- This was most probably due to the 
ies. These groups arc distinguished by a incomplete adequacy of the borrowed 
strictly symmetrical-heraldic composi- images of the notions existing in the 
tion: in one of the sectors the sphinxes Scythian environment about the figures 
are standing face to face, in another they which these images were called upon to 
are sitting on their hind paws. If the incarnate. Having been formed within a 
hypothesis about the correlation of the different mythological tradition, with its 
two motifs considered above with the own inherent notions - not at all identi- 
North -"above"- summer and South - cal to the Scythian ones - about the 
"below"- winter is plausible, then the appearance and the attributes of the he- 
symmetry of the latter two groups and rocs in the mythology and about the sto- 
the recurrence of the same images in rics connected with them, these images 
them suggests a link between the deco- could not be adapted to express the qual- 
ration of these sectors with the moments itativcly new content without substan- 
of equinox: in spring and in autumn. In f ial processing. During the contacts be- 
this way it appears that the symbols of tween Scythia and the ancient East that 
the four turning points in the solar cal- processing could not be completed, more- 
endar are oriented along the two per- over it was greatly hampered by the rig- 
pendicular axes of the Kclermes mirror, id canonic rules of artistic rendering. 
In order to confirm such an interprets- typical of ancient Oriental art. Scythian 
tion, it would be necessary to explain artists, who had no skills whatsoever in 
whether there is some connection be- the visual arts, were incapable of achiev- 
tween the zoomorphic images in the four ing the necessary processing of the bor- 
inlcrmcdiary sectors and the astral sym- rowed images and of the iconographic 
holism of the four seasons, which exist- patterns. Hence, ancient Eastern and Ion- 
cd in the ancient East and in the Ionic ic images of deities and other anlhropo- 
environment. Such a scrupulous work morphic images could not strike root in 
promises very interesting results and it Scythian art. 

awaits its author. The fate of the zoomorphic images 

On the whole, the considered Early accepted by the Scythians was quite dif- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


ferent. They did not have to depict the 
heroes of Scythian mythology: as we 
have seen, these heroes were not en- 
dowed with a zoomorphic image. They 
had a different function: they were con- 
ditional signs-symbols corresponding to 
definite elements of the Scythian myth- 
ological model of the world, being in- 
tended to incarnate the structural con- 
figurations characterizing that model. 
These signs acquired a zoomorphic char- 
acter most probably because - as in the 
absolute majority of archaic cultures - 
the zoomorphic code had always existed 
in the Proto-Scythian environment as a 
means of symbolic description of the 
world; indirect evidence of this is dis- 
covered also in the surviving fragments 
of Scythian folklore. However, until that 
moment it lacked imagcrial expression, 
its earlier use had not resulted in the 
emergence of animalist art. Then the 
alien images borrowed by the Scythians 
could guarantee the formation of the re- 
spective sign system, whereby they did 
not require a radical processing, due to 
the conditional character of such signs. 
Such borrowing was also facilitated by 
the absence of an active story element in 
Scythian animalist compositions. The 
different animal images were more sus- 
ceptible to reinterprctation in the spirit 
of the genuine Scythian concepts: be- 
sides, the structural configurations which 
these images had to express, referred in 
their vast majority to the class of mytho- 
logical universalia, being identical in 
the different cultures. All this eventual- 
ly resulted in the formation on the basis 
of borrowings of the specific art of the 
animal style as a predominant mode in 
Scythia for expressing the mythological 
picture of the world through the lan- 
guage of pictorial art. Its repertory grew 
gradually with time, the iconographic 
patterns became richer through the use 
of zoomorphic metamorphoses, as well 
as some other novelties of plot and style. 
In this way, it was precisely the animal 
style which for several centuries became 

not only the most original element of 
Scythian culture, but also essentially the 
only trend in pictorial art, represented 
in it. The semantic aspect of the works 
of art were already discussed in the pre- 
vious chapter. 

Only one group of human images in 
Scythian art outlived this boundary and 
continued to exist parallel to the works of 
art featuring the animal style during the 
next centuries. These were the stone stat- 
ues of warriors (Fig. 44), which were 
placed over the burial mounds of noble 
Scythians, most probably chieftains of dif- 
ferent ranks. These statues differed es- 
sentially in appearance: sometimes they 
were very meticulously executed statues 
of warriors, coming close to the idea of 
sculpture in the full sense of the word, on 
other occasions they were simply stone 
pillars or slabs on which the parts of the 
body and elements of the apparel of the 
depicted persons were rendered very sche- 
matically. Nevertheless, if one approach- 
es these statues from the perspective of 
the mode of reflecting the environment 
which they incarnated, they could be ex- 
amined as a homogeneous scries of hu- 
man images, so far unknown in other 
works of Scythian art. What could be the 
explanation of this situation? 

Most probably, these statues had an 
essentially different way of coding the 
mythological information, compared 
with the images just analysed. The per- 
son represented by the statue was not 
incorporated in any scene or composi- 
tion of another nature: it is autonomous, 
representing to a certain extent not an 
isolated clement of the text, but an inde- 
pendent entire text. Such an assumption 
is also confirmed by the history of the 
formation of this category of monuments. 
The origin of the Scythian stone statues 
is not traced to works of ancient Eastern 
art. Apparently, their immediate precur- 
sor should be sought in the primitive 
Pontic stelae from pre-Scythian times: 
stone pillars placed in vertical position 
over the tumuli. In fact, these stelae were 

y 2* Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

H^— «fc 


D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


Fig. 44. Scythian stone statues 

not yet monuments of the visual arts in 
the proper sense of the term, though 
without depicting a human being or an 
anthropomorphic creature, they at the 
same time designated a human figure. 
This was achieved by introducing im- 
ages of some elements of a warrior's 
attire at the respective places on the 
stone pillar: a necklace-bracelet in the 
upper part and a belt in the lower part 
of the pillar. In the normal place for the 
bell, there sometimes appeared very 
schematic pictures of the attributes at- 
tached to it: whetstone, gorytos with a 
bow and battle-axe. Such conditional 
techniques not only transformed the 
stone pillar into a sign of a human fig- 
ure, but they also divided it into three 
parts, which corresponded to the three 
/.ones of the world in the terms of the 
anatomical code considered earlier. The 
part of the pillar above the necklace 
designated the head and corresponded 
to the upper, celestial world, the regis- 
ter below the belt was correlated to the 
chthonic. nether world, whereas the 
middle part between the necklace and 
the belt served to mark the middle world. 
It is precisely such primitive stelae, 
formed already within the frameworks 
of the strictly aniconic (non-pictorial) 
culture, that expressed most laconically 
the cosmological essence of such mon- 
uments, using the means of expression 
of the anatomical code. The monuments 
were quite widespread in the Eurasian 
steppes. In the eastern part of the re- 
gion - in Southern Siberia and in Cen- 
tral Asia - these stelae acquired the 
rather peculiar appearance of the so- 
called "stag stones": in addition to the 
elements of the individual's attire, in- 
tended to divide the stone pillar into 
parts that correspond to the zones of 
the human body and to the cosmic lev- 
els correlated with them, stag images 
were introduced on the pillar (usually 
in its middle part), and in this way the 
idea invested in the monument was ex- 
pressed in terms of both the anatomical 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

and the zoological code. On the whole, 
such pillars acted as a material incarna- 
tion of the cosmic structure. 

The described stone stelae became 
the basis for the formation of Scythian 
anthropomorphic statues. Moreover, the 
evolution was entirely at the expense of 
the growing complexity of the plan of 
the expression. For example, a more or 
less detailed rendering of a face appeared 
in the upper part, sometimes also a hair- 
style or a hat; in the middle part greater 
attention began to be attached to details 
of the clothing and to the realistic exe- 
cution of the attributes, hands also ap- 
peared; and finally, legs and feet began 
to be depicted in individual cases in the 
lower part of the statue, male genitalia 
being more frequent. The pillar-like ste- 
la was transformed into an anthropo- 
morphic image. However, the actual 
structure of the monument and the idea 
invested in it remained the same. The 
necklace and the belt dividing the figure 
into zones with a definite significance 
remained the most frequent, almost man- 
datory attributes of the statue; in the 
rare cases when they were not depicted, 
the respective division was achieved with 
different - already purely sculptural - 
techniques, e.g. the head was distin- 
guished by shaping the shoulders and 
the neck. 

If Scythian statues, which were dat- 
ed as a whole to a relatively long period 
of time (6th-3rd century BC) and today 
number several dozens, are distributed 
according to their chronological se- 
quence, we would not obtain a clear pic- 
ture of the gradually increasing sophis- 
tication of their artistic form, of the in- 
tensification of the naturalist element 
and of the greater use of sculptural tech- 
nique. After the qualitative leap at some 
period in the 6th century BC, which 
transformed the schematic stele into a 
statue, two groups of human images ex- 
isted in parallel in Scythia: realistic and 
too schematic, using a minimum of 
means for the anthropomorphization of 

the stone pillar and for expressing the 
original idea. This circumstance was the 
best evidence that precisely that idea 
had remained a key element in the se- 
mantics of the forms, determining their 
persistence in the Scythian environment. 
But what was the ritual function of these 
statues and the mythological semantics 
of the image incarnated by them? 

It has been mentioned already that 
similar statues were erected in Scythia 
over the graves of chieftains having dif- 
ferent ranks. According to the different 
sources of information, mythological 
thinking perceived such a chieftain as 
the personification of the community led 
by him. as its personal incarnation. The 
health, the physical strength and the ac- 
tual life of the chieftain were a guaran- 
tee for the well-being of the community, 
each damage inflicted to the chieftain 
affected that well-being, whereas the ex- 
treme manifestation of that damage - 
the chieftain's death - was equivalent to 
the disintegration of social (and hence 
of cosmic) order, to the temporary tri- 
umph of chaos over the Cosmos, which 
required its immediate elimination. 
Since mythological thinking identified 
cosmic order with the image symboliz- 
ing it - the world tree, the cosmic pillar, 
etc. - the violation of that order, even 
that caused by the death of the chieftain, 
was interpreted as the collapse of that 
pillar and the inflicted damage could be 
rectified only by erecting it anew. Hence 
the placing of an anthropomorphic statue, 
expressing in terms of the anatomical 
code the structure of the ordered Cos- 
mos, which is emphasized by its tripar- 
tite nature as well, became an invariable 
element of the rite related to the burial 
of that chieftain. In that context, such a 
statue played the role of a substitute of 
the deceased and of his image accord- 
ingly. The chieftain himself (the king - 
perceived on the scale of the entire 
Scythia) in his turn personified the first 
Scythian king from mythical times and 
therefore the stone statue was perceived 

D, Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


simultaneously as depicting that mytho- 
logical figure as well. As we have seen, 
the first king in the Scythian myths was 
Kolaxais, or his father Targitaos - the 
progenitor of the Scythians and the per- 
sonification of the human world. In or- 
der to decide which of these two men 
was depicted by the Scythian statues, let 
us turn our attention to two of their char- 
acteristic features: their marked tripart- 
ite character and the frequent render- 
ing of male attributes. The later detail 
correlated directly with the role of pro- 
genitor, attributed to Targitaos, while 
the tripartite nature corresponded to his 
characterization as the triune incarna- 
tion of the three zones of the Universe. 
each of which was personified in one of 
his three sons. This suggests then that at 
the level of narrative mythology Scyth- 
ian statues could be interpreted as de- 
picting Targitaos. 

Generally speaking, however, such 
statues should be perceived as a ritual 
attribute with a triple semantics: this 
was at the same time a material incarna- 
tion of the symbol of world order, i.e. 
the cosmic pillar whose erecting was 
called upon to abolish the temporary vi- 
olation of that order; the image of the 
mythological figure personifying that 
order and hence being semantically iden- 
tical to the world pillar; and finally, the 
image of a concrete individual - of the 
chieftain or king buried in the barrow 
over which the statue had been erected - 
which, due to its inherent social func- 
tion, was perceived as the incarnation 
both of the social and cosmic order, and 
of the mythological figure personifying 
that order. Having been formed inde- 
pendently of the other anthropomorphic 
images in Scythian art, at first exclu- 
sively on the basis of the use of the 
anatomical code, and having acquired 
the characteristics of a real work of art 
only in the course of their evolution, 
Scythian statues had their own fate that 
was autonomous of these images and 
existed there even during the period when 

the animal style totally dominated the 
rest of Scythian art. 

As regards the fate of that style, 
after the process of its formation as a 
specific sign system ended around the 
middle of the 6th century BC, its further 
development markedly demonstrated two 
tendencies that were somewhat contra- 
dictory. Specialists usually characterize 
the first of these tendencies as a gradual 
sty li /.at ion and schematization of the 
images, leading eventually to their trans- 
formation into ornamental motifs in 
which it is difficult for the unaccustomed 
eye to discern the starting image. In a 
certain sense, the development of this 
tendency was programmed by the actual 
sign system of animal style, by the con- 
ditionally symbolic character of the signs 
making up that style. For such signs the 
degree of similarity to the real objects 
acting as symbols was practically not 
very great, hence the image gradually 
turned into a hieroglyph by losing its 
initially intrinsic figurativeness, but of- 
ten acquired all kinds of ornamental el- 
ements that "adorned" it. From a purely 
aesthetic point of view, this tendency- 
resulted in a certain degradation of 
Scythian animal style, loss of its inher- 
ent laconism and expressiveness. How- 
ever, it continued to perform its charac- 
teristic scmiotic functions and served as 
a means of describing the model of the 
world and of reproducing the structural 
configurations making up that model. 

The parallel second tendency, de- 
fined as the growing presence of realis- 
tic moments in Scythian animalist art, 
was closely connected to the history of 
cultural relations between the indige- 
nous population of the Northern Pontic 
area and the inhabitants of the Greek 
colonies along the Pontic coast, because 
it was the direct consequence of the in- 
fluence of Greek culture on the Scyth- 
ians. The Greeks, who appeared along 
the Northern Pontic coasts in the 7th 
century BC and founded a rather dense 
network of cities there throughout the 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

6th century BC, had a keen interest in 
active trade relations with the Scyth- 
ians, because they received from them 
grain, which was essential both for the 
population of these colonies, and for the 
Greek metropolis. Scythia supplied the 
ancient world with other valuable prod- 
ucts as well. In their turn, the Scythian 
aristocracy began to buy the products of 
the Greek craftsmen, and their virtually 
unlimited buying power was essential 
for the economy of the ancient world. In 
order to become firmly established on 
that market, Greek artists and craftsmen 
tried to adapt their production to suit the 
tastes and the demand of Scythian buy- 
ers, which also led to the emergence of 
Graeco-Scythian art. This flooded Scythia 
with various objects having the tradi- 
tional local forms, but being made by 
Greek artists and craftsmen, and deco- 
rated at the level of the best achieve- 
ments of Greek artistic crafts. Such ob- 
jects were particularly intensively pro- 
duced around the end of the 5th and in 
the 4th century BC. Since the influence 
of the demand of the consumer environ- 
ment was reflected here predominantly 

in the repertory of motifs and scenes 
decorating these objects, they may be 
examined on a par with the monuments 
of Scythian art proper as a valuable 
source about Scythian mythology. Let 
us take a closer look at this repertory. 

The earliest monuments of Graeco- 
Scythian art contained zoomorphic im- 
ages exclusively; they were preserved 
later as well, being combined with an- 
thropomorphic figures and expanded 
scenes with many figures. It may be as- 
sumed that initially the Greek artists 
operated with the same zoological code 
which served as the basis for the Scyth- 
ian animal style and was hence the most 
accessible pictorial language for the 
Scythian audience. This assumption is 
confirmed by observations on the con- 
crete pictorial repertory of Graeco-Scyth- 
ian animalist art. It was hardly a coinci- 
dence that the stag was the principal 
figure there, just as in the Scythian ani- 
mal style. The two other "participants" 
from the zoomorphic compositions - the 
lion and the eagle-griffin - were not 
new to Scythia cither. Naturally, here 
the lion had substituted the schematic 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


predator customary to the animal style. 
On the other hand, the griffin is a rather 
natural synonym of a bird of prey. It is 
interesting to note that Greek artists de- 
picted it precisely in the same way as 
the fantastic inhabitant of the lands to 
the north of Scythia, bearing the same 
name, has been described in the ancient 
literature: with a lion's body, an eagle's 
head and wings, i.e. corresponding fully 
to the notions of Scythian mythology. In 
this way, the three main zoomorphic 
images in Gracco-Scvthian art are per- 
fectly suitable for such a description of 
the ternary structure of the Universe. 

It is important that in the interpre- 
tation of the Greek artists the griffin 
combined features of a bird of prey and 
of a predator, i.e. the two creatures cor- 
related in Scythian notions with the two 
worlds of the dead - upper and lower. 
Thus, these monuments give a logical 
conclusion to the tendency of unifying 
the notion about these worlds and to- 
ward a binary interpretation of the Uni- 
verse, which was noted earlier in the 
works of Scythian animal style. 

Naturally, the character of the rcn- 

Fig. 45. A battle scene. Detail front 
the decoration on a silver 
amphora from Chertomlyk 

Fig. 46. A predator attacking a he- 
goat. Gold casing of a wooden 
vessel. The "Seven Brothers" 
barrow group 

dcring of these images by the Greek 
artists differed substantially from the 
approach known from Scythia earlier. 
In compliance to the Greek pictorial tra- 
dition from the Late Classical and Early 
Hellenistic periods, here the postures of 
the animals were much more varied, the 
modelling of their bodies was more re- 
alistic, the dynamism was more felt, be- 
ing in contrast to the strict static nature 
of the zoomorphic images in Early 
Scythian art. This tradition could not 
have influenced the actual Scythian ani- 
mal style, therefore at that time it re- 
vealed a tendency towards a greater em- 
phasis on the realistic principle. From a 
semantic point of view, the works of art 
in the Gracco- Scythian scries were called 
upon to implement the same task as the 
Early Scythian animalist art, i.e. that 
was a language intended to describe the 
Universe as a structure consisting of "this 
world", symbolized by the image of some 
hoofed animal (mainly stags) and the 
worlds beyond, which were opposed to 
it and were designated with the images 
of the lion and griffin. 

An essentially new clement for this 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

Fig. 47. Griffins attacking a he-goat 
Silver vessel from Kul-Oba 

Fig. 48. Gold phiale from Solokha 

art was the actual way in which the 
pictorial text was built: not simply by 
juxtaposing the images included in it, 
but by introducing an active plot in the 
text. The role of such a plot could be 
played by the motif of the combat be- 
tween animals (Figs. 45-47), because it 
could best express the idea underlying 
the cosmological concepts of the Scyth- 
ians, i.e. the idea of the interactions 
between the world of mortals and the 
lethal "other worlds". Mythological 
thinking perceives death as a mandatory 

D. Rao ski y Scythian Mythology 


clement of the cyclic vital processes 
and even as a kind of sacrifice to the 
gods, who responded by acting as forc- 
es giving new life; that was a peculiar 
exchange of gifts between the world of 
the gods and the human world. The 
scene of the combat between the ani- 
mals could be interpreted in such a con- 
text as the pictorial equivalent, ex- 
pressed through zoomorphic images, of 
such a sacrifice, i.e. a functional sub- 
stitute of the respective ritual. 

It is not accidental that similar scenes 

served in Scylhia mainly for decorating 
objects belonging to a warrior's arma- 
ment: scabbards and sheaths, gorytos, etc. 
If every death is a way of maintaining 
and of regenerating life, the killing of an 
enemy in battle was one of the ways of 
making such a sacrifice, and this is pre- 
cisely the idea that has been invested in 
the images decorating the weapon des- 
tined to perform this act of sacrifice. An- 
other sphere in which the motif of the 
struggle between animals is widespread 
is the decoration of ritual vessels: here 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

again the ritual function of the vessel - 
the sacrificial libation - and the content 
of the vessel's decoration seem to over- 
lap, guaranteeing maximum effect of the 

The way in which such scenes -have 
been organized in the elaborate multi- 
figured pictorial texts is very interest- 
ing. An example in this respect is the 
gold phiale from the Soiokha barrow 
(Fig. 48). The phiale is decorated with 
three concentric friezes consisting of 
numerous repetitions of the scene of a 
lion devouring a stag. Here the structure 
of the composition is built on the identi- 
fication between the lower part in the 
vertical subsystem of the Cosmos and 
the periphery, characterized earlier, of 
the outer contour - in its horizontal sub- 
system: the scene serving as a symbolic 
way of expressing the characteristics of 
the nether, chthonic world is placed on 
the periphery of the vessel, its centre 
being identified with the centre of the 
Universe. The triple repetition of this 
frieze of scenes correlates well with the 
notion about the ternary nature of each 
of the three zones making up the Uni- 
verse, typical of the cosmogony of the 
Indo-lranians (cf. the Scythian standard 
from the Alexandropol barrow, where 
the upper world is designated with three 
figures of birds - Fig. 49). 

It is necessary to note that the reper- 
tory of animal images in Gracco-Scylh- 
ian art also includes some animals which 
are cither virtually not represented, or 
are very rare in Scythian animal style, 
though they arc nevertheless not at all 
accidental in Scythian mythology. For 
example, cult objects made by Greek 
craftsmen, decorated with the images of 
swimming, flying and diving aquatic 
birds, have been found in various bar- 
rows in Scythia (Fig. 50). The available 
data on the zoomorphic symbolism 
which existed in the Scythian environ- 
ment contain no information about these 
creatures, and it may be assumed that 
the popularity of that motif on the works 

Fig. 49. Bronze standard from the Al- 
exandropol barrow 

Fig. 50. Silver vessel from Kul-Oha, 
decorated with aquatic birds 

of Gracco-Scvlhian art was prompted 
exclusively by the preferences of the 
Greek artists. However, this conclusion 
is rejected by the comparative Indo-Ira- 
nian material: researchers have found a 
long time ago that in the traditions of 
these people the aquatic bird was op- 
posed to t lie bird of prey very clearly as 
symbols of the corporal world and of the 
world beyond. This seems to be the key 
for interpreting the presence of aquatic 
birds in Scythian art as well. 

The equine motif, which is extremely 
rare in the animal style, though it had a 
rather complex and detailed symbolism 
in the different fndo-Iranian traditions, 
acquired an equally unusual extensive 
occurrence in the works of art belonging 
to the Gracco-Scythian circle. Inciden- 
tally, in the concrete case we can draw 
both on the analogies from the related 
Scythian cultures and on the evidence of 
genuine Scythian folklore. Let us recall 
the story from the genealogical myth 
about Hcraklcs. who accidentally found 
himself in the cave of the snake-legged 
goddess, while seeking his lost horses. 
This plot was essentially built in such a 
way that the hero's journey to the lands 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


where that chthonic creature lived (i.e. 
to the chthonic world beyond) became 
possible only because he was following 
the road along which his horse had gone. 
This technique concerning the plot is 
explained well with the notion in the 
Indo-Iranian tradition about the horse 
as a creature simultaneously linked to 
the three levels of the Universe and ac- 
cordingly capable of penetrating into 
each of the three worlds. This notion 
most probably accounts for the popular- 
ity of the winged horse in Scythia. i.e. of 
the horse to which the upper, celestial 
world was also accessible. We shall come 
back to the problem of the link between 
the horse image and the ternary struc- 
ture of the Cosmos again when we inter- 
pret some Graeco-Scythian monuments. 
The cited examples arc indisputable 
evidence that the Greek artists and 
craftsmen fulfilling Scythian orders were 
sufficiently familiar with the details of 
Scythian mythology and had a deep in- 
sight into the nature of the ideological 
notions of the society which they served. 
The expansion of the circle of the anal- 
ysed and interpreted monuments belong- 
ing to that scries allows us to claim with 

growing certainty that there was not a 
single one among them, whose content 
had been prompted by the free fantasy 
of the Greek artist and was not a rever- 
beration of the ideological order given 
by the Scythian environment. The Greek 
clement in these works of art can be 
seen only in the artistic style and ex- 
quisite workmanship, the semantics be- 
ing purely Scythian. 

Precisely this profound knowledge 
of Scythian mythology by the Greek 
goldsmiths and artists allowed them to 
solve in the 4th century BC the artistic 
task which several centuries previously 
proved to be far beyond the capacity of 
the Ancient Eastern and Ionic artists, 
namely to create original compositions 
based on stories from the Scythian myths 
and to render Scythian mythological fig- 
ures. Naturally, the character of Greek 
art itself in the early days of Hellenism 
also played a considerable part in this 
respect. The breaking of the rigid picto- 
rial canonic norms, the striving to de- 
pict a wide range of plots and to express 
the emotional states of the participants 
in the scenes -all these failures of Greek 
art created prerequisites for the success- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

fui coping with the task. The stories in 
the mythology of an alien people, which 
were deprived of sacral implications in 
the eves of the Greek artists and conse- 
quently allowed them sufficient freedom 
in the search for the optimum artistic 
solution, were a very favourable materi- 
al for these artists. The ideological or- 
ders of the Scythians and the aesthetic 
aspirations of the Greeks coincided to a 
certain extent at that time, which also 
prepared the grounds for the appearance 
of a whole series of masterpieces of 
Gracco-Scythian torcutics, decorated 
with elaborate compositions. 

Earlier we discussed many monu- 
ments from this scries: the rendering of 
the story of the trial to which the three 
sons of Targilaos were subjected on the 
vessels from the Voronezh tumuli and 
from Kul-Oba. the further fate of the 
three brothers on the cup from Gay ma n- 
ova barrow and on the gold comb from 
Solokha, the scene of the "ritual wed- 
ding" on the gold appliques from the 
different burials of the Scythian aristoc- 
racy, the depicting of the rite of organiz- 
ing space by shooting with a bow and 
arrows in the appliques from Kul-Oba. 
etc. This scries is being constantly add- 
ed to. Naturally, archaeologists do not 
come across unique monuments of the 
type of the cup from Kul-Oba very of- 
ten, but the gold appliques that decorat- 
ed the festive apparel or the shrouds of 
the deceased, featuring different scenes 
and decorative motifs, which arc kept in 
the Russian museums, already amount 
to hundreds (naturally, bearing in mind 
the recurrence of the same motif again 
and again many times). All these monu- 
ments feature cthnographically feasible 
Scythian figures in the context of some 
mythological or ritual scenes: the strug- 
gle of men in Scythian clothes against a 
griffin (Chcrtomlyk). the rite of two 
Scythians drinking together from one 
rhyton - most probably a ritual of con- 
cluding some contract invoking a pledge 
or oath, referred to bv Herodotus (IV. 

Fig. 51, A Scythian chasing a hare. 
Gold applique from Kul-Oba 

Fig. 52. An eagle attacking a hare. 

Gold casing of a wooden vessel 

70) (Solokha. Kul-Oba), a female Scyth- 
ian (a goddess?) with a dog in her feet 
and holding a bird in her hands (Chmyrc- 
va barrow), etc. 

Most of the works of art of this type 
arc believed to have been made in the 
cities of the Bosporan Kingdom. And 
indeed, the closer to the Bosporus a 
Scythian burial was found, the more it 
contained similar Scythian scenes. Here 
the palm belongs to Kul-Oba, which is 
located on the territory of that stale, in 
immediate proximity to its capital city. 

There is a curious motif on the gold 
appliques from Kul-Oba (Fig. 51) and 
on the silver appliques from the Alcxan- 
dropol barrow : a Scythian horseman is 
slaying a hare with a spear. Most schol- 
ars turn for the interpretation of the scene 
to the episode from the Scythian-Per- 
sian War. described by Herodotus (IV, 
134), assuming that it was the scene 
depicted on the cited appliques. Accord- 
ing to that story, at the moment when 
the troops of the two enemy forces were 
lined facing one another for the decisive 
battle, a hare ran in the direction of the 
Scythian soldiers. All Scythian warriors 
who saw the hare, forgot about their 
enemy and ran after the hare. Darius 
saw in this the greatest disrespect for his 

D. Raevskiv Scythian Mythology 


might: therefore, without accepting the 
fight, he hastened to leave Scythia. The 
content of this episode indeed demon- 
strates a striking coincidence with the 
cited images. However, the interpreta- 
tion of the latter precisely as a rendering 
of that story is prevented by the circum- 
stance that the motif of a horseman pur- 
suing a hare is also found in the pictori- 
al art of those regions of the Eurasian 
world that spoke the Iranian language, 
where the story about the Scythian-Per- 
sian War could not be popular and was 
probably hardly known at all. For exam- 
ple, a similar scene appears on the silver 
disc from the famous treasure from Onus. 
found on the territory of ancient Bac- 
tria. but there it is combined with hunt- 
ing scenes of stags and mountain goats. 
which at any rate arc totally unrelated to 
the narrative about the Scythian-Persian 
War. E.E.Kuxmina compared the scene 
of interest to us on the disc from Onus 
with an episode from the Ossctic Nartic 
epic tradition, in which one of the he- 
rocs persecuted a magnificent white 
hare. This hare proved to be the daugh- 
ter of the water-god. One of the princi- 
pal figures in the Nartic epic tradition - 
the already familiar Batraz - was born 
from the hero's marriage to that water 

queen. The similarity between this story 
and Scythian mythology is beyond any 
doubt: let us recall only the daughter of 
the water-god - the progenitress of the 
Scythians - in the numerous versions of 
the Scythian genealogical myth. 

A general explanation can be found 
for all motifs cited above: the episode of 
the Scythian-Persian War, the story about 
the birth of Balraz. and even the fact 
that l he scene of the hare hunt was pop- 
ular in the art of Scythia and of the 
areas that were culturally close to it. 
ensuing from the symbolism of the hare 
image, inherent to a large range of Indo- 
European peoples, including the Irani- 
ans Here the hare stood for fertility, for 
the fruit-bearing forces in Nature. On 
this basis it is easy to reconstruct the 
existing notion among the Scythians 
about the offering of a hare as a sacri- 
fice, as a means of acquiring wealth and 
ail kinds of prosperity. Therefore, it was 
the Scythians who started running after 
the hare before the eyes of the enemy 
troops, because if they caught it. this 
would have guaranteed a good omen for 
the forthcoming battle. Incidentally, ac- 
cording to the evidence in Xcnophon 
(Kyropakk'ia II. 4). that was how the 
Persian king Cyrus II assessed the fact 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

Fig. 53. Silver amphora from 
Chert omlyk, with gilt 

Fig. 5-/. Equine sacrifice. Detail from 
the frieze on the amphora 
from Chert omlyk 

that an eagle was devouring a hare be- 
fore the eyes of his troops, while they 
were starting on their march. This is the 
reason for the popularity in Scythia of 
the motif of the hare hunt or the chasing 
of a hare by a dog. or its devouring by a 
bird of prey; the latter two scenes, as we 
became convinced earlier, are a symbol- 
ic equivalent of the offering of sacrifices 
(Fig. 52). 

Thus, the adducing of a wide range 
of data about Scythian mythology and 
about different typological and genetic 
parallels reveals the semantic unity of 
the numerous monuments of Graeco- 
Scythian art, which are ostensibly very 
different in content and in the character 

of the ideological concepts which they 
incarnate. Using the codes that existed 
in the Scythian environment and were 
well familiar to the Greek artists - sym- 
bolic zoological or narrative anthropo- 
morphic - they all expressed the Scyth- 
ian notion about the structure of the 
world, about the evolution of the vital 
processes, about the interrelations and 
interactions of all aspects of life. The 
deep insight of the Greek artists into the 
semantic unity of Scythian systems that 
were di He rent" in their code nature was 
best manifested in the pictorial texts con- 
sisting of many figures and having an 
extremely sophisticated structure, such 
as. e.g.. some works of Graeco-Scythian 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


art. Considerable success has been scored 
in recent years in the dc-ciphcring of 
these texts. For example, \vc shall con- 
sider the interpretation of two objects of 
that type: the silver amphora from the 
Chcrtomlyk barrow (Figs 53-55) and the 
gold pectoral from Tolstaya barrow 
(Figs 56-60). 

The amphora from Chcrtomlyk is 
one of the best known examples of Greek 
torcutics from the Scythian barrows. It 
has an egg-shaped body, narrow neck 
with mouth rim turning outwards, two 
vertical handles and a bottom that is not 
very high. The bod) of the amphora is 
covered by a floral motif that grows out 
in the form of two symmetrical twigs 

from a palmcllc situated at the base, and 
twisting in a peculiar fashion over the 
entire body of the vase. Birds can be 
seen depicted on the twigs. In the lower 
part of the body there are three spouts. 
Two of them, on both sides, arc shaped 
to resemble lion's heads, whereas the 
third one. which is oriented along the 
central axis of the decorative composi- 
tion, depicts a winged horse; the wings 
of that horse spread over the vase's body, 
partly cover the floral motifs, while his 
head shapes the opening of the ampho- 
ra. Two fric/cs with images appear one 
above the other on the shoulders of the 
vessel. The upper one reproduces scenes 
in which griffins arc attacking stags. 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

The lower multi-figured frieze features 
Scythians and horses. 

The content of the latter frieze con- 
tains to a great extent the key to deci- 
pher the semantics of the entire compo- 
sition. For more than one hundred years 
after the Chertomlyk vase was discov- 
ered in 1863, most Scythologists have 
interpreted it as "Scythians in the midst 
of a herd": they saw in it only typical 
scenes of the catching, taming and do- 
mesticating of horses, which played such 
a major role in the everyday life and 
economy of Scythian nomads. Only re- 
cently this interpretation was reconsid- 
ered in a radically new way. Two spe- 
cialists on the history and culture of the 
Scythians - E.E.Kuzmina and DAM a - 
chinskiy - simultaneously and appar- 
ently independently of one another, drew 
attention to the striking coincidence be- 
tween the content of the central scene in 
this frieze and Herodotus' description of 
the Scythian practice of offering horses 
as a sacrifice. 

According to Herodotus (IV. 60-61). 
Scythians offered horses as a sacrifice to 
their gods more often than other ani- 
mals. For the purpose, they tied the ani- 
mal's forelegs, then they brought it down 
by pulling the end of the rope with which 
the legs were tied, pulling a loop on its 
neck, fastening it with the help of a 
stick to strangle the horse, while at the 
same time uttering a formula addressed 
to the deity for whom the sacrifice was 
intended. The vase from Chertomlyk 
shows precisely these operations, not in 
a sequence, but brought together in one 
scene and performed by the different 
participants in the ritual (as was required 
by the pictorial interpretation): two 
Scythians - one of them standing be- 
hind the horse, the other one being in 
front of it - arc pulling the ropes tied in 
loops on each of the animal's forelegs, 
thus making it lie with the front part of 
his body close to Ihc ground, while at 
the same time the third participant in 
the ritual, who is standing next to the 

Fig. 55. Detail front the decoration on 
the silver vessel from 

horse's head, is fastening the noose 
thrown over the animal's neck. The ropes 
and the stick used for the strangling of 
the animal have not been preserved in 
the scene, but the postures of the three 
human figures and the position of their 
hands allows to reconstruct very easily 
the character of their actions. 

Such an interpretation allows us to 
"read** the content of the whole Cher- 
tomlyk frieze as a scries of actions mak- 
ing up the ritual of the horse sacrifice. 
whereby the scenes arc depicted in such 
a way that the development of events is 
followed from the posterior part of the 
amphora to the anterior one. along both 
its sides. In the part of the frieze in the 
posterior part of the vessel the image of 
a freely grazing horse in the herd ap- 
pears twice. This is followed by the mo- 
ment of the catching of the horse, again 
reproduced twice - on the right and on 
the left The subsequent scenes, which 
arc immediately next to the central one. 
already differ in content: to the left, the 
Scythian is touching the horse's foreleg, 
as if to check whether it is suitable for 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology Ail / 

the ritual act; to the right, we sec the 
horse with a saddle, at a moment when 
he is being tripped, apparently after it 
had completed some important itinerary 
in the context of the ritual. And finally, 
the action ends with the already described 
scene of the sacrifice. Indeed, there is a 
moment which hampers the interpreta- 
tion of all these scenes as reproducing a 
scries of interrelated events: in all scenes 
- except for the central one - there is no 
doubt that stallions have been depicted, 
whereas the principal "figure* in the 
central scene lacks any sexual attributes, 
which has given grounds to some re- 
searchers to assume that a marc had 
been depicted here, unlike the remain- 
ing groups. However, this means that 
the semantic link between the different 
elements of the frieze is lost and the 
logic of its construction remains unclear. 
It seems more probable that the specific 
features in the rendering of the various 
horses was prompted by the differences 
in their postures (in the latter scene it is 
simply not possible to sec the genitalia. 
thev are hidden behind the animal's hind 

legs) and hence apparently the entire 
frieze narrates the ''history* of a horse 
connected with a definite ritual. 

We have noted repeatedly the close- 
ness of that ritual, as well as of some 
other specificities of the ritual attitude 
to horses in Scythia, to the ancient Indie 
ritual called "asvamcdluf, which was 
closely related to the king and to the 
regular renovation of his sacral force. In 
thai ritual, the horse sacrifice - which is 
the central act - is preceded by his free 
wandering for one year, the itinerary of 
this wandering being interpreted as de- 
fining the territory subordinated to the 
king. This detail allows us to go even 
further in the parallel drawn between 
the Scythian and the Indie rite, and to 
recall the way in which the outlines of 
the possessions of the "temporary" king 
were determined in the annual religious 
festivities of the Scythians, described in 
the second chapter of this book, which - 
similar to the asvamedha - was associ- 
ated with the idea of the rejuvenating of 
the king's inherent strength; the posses- 
sions comprised the land which the 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visihlc Images 

king's substitute could lour on horse- 
back in one day. Could it be that the 
saddled horse on the Chcrtomlyk am- 
phora travelled that road? Then the 
entire content of the Chcrtomlyk frieze 
could be interpreted as a chain of ac- 
tions connected with these festivities (the 
choice of a horse, the determining of its 
fitness, the rounds of the territory in- 
tended for the temporary king), recon- 
structing yet another clement related lo 
the actual festivities and to the rituals 
following them, namely: the killing of 
the temporary king, because his sacri- 
fice could be preceded by the sacrifice of 
his horse, to which such a semantical lv 
important role had been attributed in 
this ritual act. 

Such an interpretation of the scene 
depicted on the Chcrtomlyk vase is di- 
rectly associated with the content of its 
upper frieze, depicting the battle scene. 
On the one hand, this is a symbolic 
pictorial equivalent of the sacrifice, pre- 
sented very naturalislically in the lower 
frieze; on the other, it is a symbol of the 
world beyond, opposed to the human 
world and serving as the addressee of 
the sacrifice depicted. And finally, this 
scene incarnates the cyclic vital process- 
es, the alternation of life and death, i.e. 
the idea underlying the semantics of the 
calendar festivities with which, accord- 
ing to the proposed interpretation, the 
content of the scene in the frieze on the 
amphora is connected, all the more that 
the amphora itself most probably served 
as a ritual attribute in the cited sacrifice. 

According to the currently preva- 
lent opinion, the floral ornament with 
the birds on it, decorating the body of 
the amphora, symbolized the world tree, 
i.e. the image incarnating the cosmic 
structure and the link between the world 
of the gods and that of humans, each of 
which is represented in the decoration 
of the vase through one of the two friez- 
es considered. In the context of the dec- 
oration of the amphora, this image des- 
ignated the way along which the sacri- 

Fitf. 56. Gold pectoral. Tolstaya Mogila 

ficc went from the human world to the 
world of the gods. D.A.Machinskiy and 
E.E.Kuzmina have launched the assump- 
tion that the actual tripartite nature of 
the entire composition decorating the 
amphora was prompted by the inherent 
Scythian notion about the triple struc- 
ture of the Universe; then the lower reg- 
ister of that composition - the image of 
the floral ornament - should be specifi- 
cally correlated to the lower, chthonic 
world. However, such an interpretation 
correlates poorly with the semantics of 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


the image of the world tree, which is not 
associated with the lower zone of the 
Cosmos, but symbolizes world order as 
a whole. Another observation of D.A. 
Machinskiy seems more essential here. 
He has drawn attention to the fact that 
among the grave goods in the Cherlom- 
lyk barrow, the amphora of interest to 
us seemed to form an ensemble with the 
silver vessel found next to it, because it 
was into this vessel that the liquid had 
to flow from the spouts of the amphora 
in the course of the ritual libations. An 

important characteristic feature here is 
that the handles of the cited vessel arc 
decorated with images of a female deity, 
whose lower part of the body is replaced 
by floral ornaments. We have already 
seen such an image on the bone plaque 
from the comb found in the Gaymano- 
vava barrow, its analysis revealing its 
closeness to images of the snake-legged 
goddess and the indisputable links with 
the chthonic world. Apparently, the 
structure of the decoration of the am- 
phora and of the vessel from Chcrtomlyk 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

Fig. 57. The pectoral from Tolstaya 
Mogila. Detail from the 
upper frieze 

Fig, 58. The pectoral from Tolstaya 
Mogila. Detail from the 
upper frieze 

should be examined together: the 
vessel and the images depicted on it 
correlate with the lower level of the Uni- 
verse, the frie/c on \hc amphora featuring 
the horse sacrifice - with the middle 
world, and the frieze with the battle 
scenes above them - with the celestial 
world of Ihc gods. The world tree, whose 
image occupies the central space on the 
body of the amphora, is the clement in- 
terlinking the three worlds. This is why, 
precisely on it is the protome of the 
winged horse: the creature which, as we 
have pointed out already, is correlated 
in the Scythian picture of the world with 
the three worlds, in this sense being 
semantical lv identical to the world tree. 
For the same reason, the horse is the 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


principal sacrificial animal in the Scyth- 
ian environment, called upon "to trav- 
el" to other worlds and to bring to the 
inhabitants of those worlds the prayers 
of the persons performing the sacrifice. 
The silver amphora from Chertotn- 
lyk is a sacral attribute possessing a 
very elaborate semantics, which has 
partly found adequate incarnation in 
the decorative system of that amphora. 
The Greek artist has succeeded in pen- 
etrating to the very essence of the sys- 
tem of notions underlying the ritual in 
which the amphora was used. An even 
more complex task of that kind faced 
the author of the other masterpiece of 
Graeco-Scythian toreutics: the pectoral 
from Tolstaya barrow (Figs 56-60). 

The discovery of this pectoral by the 
archaeologist from Kiev B.N.Mo- 
zolcvskiv in 1971 caused an unprece- 
dented sensation in Scythian studies at 
least since the time of the excavations of 
Chertomlyk. perhaps even throughout 
its entire history, Even leaving aside the 
cxquisitcncss of the workmanship of this 
work of art. and it is indeed striking, 
attention is attracted by the complexity 
of the compositional solution of the pec- 
toral and by the wealth of mythological 
information invested in it. B.N.Mo- 
zoIc\ skiv has justifiably pointed out that 
the abundance of images depicted on 
the pectoral is unparalleled throughout 
the ancient monuments of Scythia. No 
less important is the virtuosity with 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

which the artist has achieved the coor- 
dination between each image and its 
place in the composition, reflecting to 
an equal extent its inherent semantics. 

The pectoral is a gold open-work 
decorative object consisting of four twist- 
ed and interwoven wires, joined at both 
ends with lion's heads, by means of 
which it is fastened at the back of the 
neck. The wires arc shaped like eccen- 
tric circles and the space between them 
forms three lunar fields, which arc filled 
with different images. The central place 
in the upper frieze is given to the figures 
of two men, stripped to the waist, spread- 
ing a shirt made of sheepskin, which 
they arc apparently sewing or mending. 
On both sides of them one can sec fe- 
male domestic animals with their young. 
Between them, on each side, there is a 
figure of a Scythian youth: one of them 
is milking a sheep, another one is clos- 
ing the mouth of an amphora, into which 
the sheep milk has just been poured. A 
bird figure ends this row on either side. 
The middle frieze is filled with a wind- 
ing acanthus floral ornament, on which 
fwc small bird's figures can be perceived; 
it is very similar to the decoration on the 
body of the amphora from Chcrtomlyk. 
originating in exactly the same way from 
a trifoil palmette. The middle part of the 
lower field is occupied by the scene of 
the fight between a horse and a pair of 
griffins, repeated three times, closer to 
one end there is a pair of lions (or a lion 
and a leopard), fighting with a stag, at 
the opposite end - the same pair of pred- 
ators is fighting against a boar. Closer 
to the ends of the frieze, on both sides. 
one can perceive a dog chasing a hare. 
The frieze ends on the right and on the 
left with a pair of cricket's heads turned 
to one another (male and female - ac- 
cording to the identification given by 

From the description presented, it 
can be seen that the author of the pecto- 
ral has used the same codes which wc 
analysed earlier separately as means of 

Fij>. 59. The pectoral from Tolstaya 
Mogila. Detail from the low- 
er frieze 

expressing the mythological picture of 
the world, which existed in the Scythian 

environment: there arc anthropomorphic 
figures here as well - heroes of some 
mythical story or participants in some 
ritual act - in addition to an extensive 
repertory of symbolic scenes of battle, 
and a floral motif, which is interpreted 
in other works of art as the incarnation 
of the world tree. Being subordinated to 
the strict laws of composition, these mo- 
tifs arc organized in a unified pictorial 
lex! by using the spatial code. 

The first striking thing when one 
looks at the pectoral is the marked op- 
position between the character of the 
scenes depicted at the two extreme reg- 
isters (the middle register will be re- 
ferred to a little later): on one of them, 
the female animals nursing their young 
clearly incarnate birth and the perpetua- 
tion of life (naturally, this semantic cir- 
cle again comprises the motif of the milk- 
ing of the animals, also associated with 
fruit-bearing Nature); at the other ex- 
treme one can sec the battle scenes, 
which wc have already analysed more 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


than once: the metaphor of death (close 
to that is the motif of the hare chased by 
the dog). These two friezes are opposed 
as the world of life and the world of 
death, which fully correlates with their 
mutual orientation in the space of the 
pectoral: the first one being placed higher 
that the second one. which corresponds 
to the position of the worlds symbolized 
by them in the cosmological model ana- 
lysed earlier. The uniqueness of the com- 
position of the pectoral consists, howev- 
er, in the success of the artist to present 
in one pictorial structure the two spatial 
subsystems - vertical and horizontal - 
of that model, referred to in the third 
chapter: indeed, the relation between 
these friezes demonstrates not only the 
opposition between "above" and "below", 
but also the opposition between the cen- 
tre and the periphery, because the lower 
frieze seems to encircle the field marked 
by the upper one. Therefore, the compo- 
sition of the pectoral clearly suggests 
that the world of death is localized si- 
multaneously both above the world of 
the living, and around it. in the external 

zone of the Universe, 

All remaining characteristics of the 
two friezes compared arc subordinated 
to the idea of the confrontation between 
the world of life and that of death. Thus, 
for example, human figures are seen only 
in the upper frieze, again there domestic 
animals appear exclusively, because they 
arc around man in his everyday life: 
hence this is the human world, a mas- 
tered and ordered world. There are no 
human figures in the lower frieze, wild 
and even fantastic animals predominate: 
this is a world opposed to everything 
that is ordinary, a world beyond, and at 
the same time a world that has not been 
conquered, a world of chaos. 

The link - in terms of both compo- 
sition and semantics - between the two 
registers and the worlds they represent 
is the floral ornament: the world tree 
depicted in the middle register. 

Even thing slated so far suggests that 
owing lo the deep meaning invested in 
the particular position of the different 
motifs on the pectoral, it represents an 
intricate pictorial cosmogram, reflect- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

ing in a concentrated form the notion of 
the Scythians about the structure of the 
world and about the processes taking 
place in it. Moreover, in the concrete 
case the cosmologicai model is built on 
a binary basis: the world beyond ap- 
pears here in the binary nature of its 
upper and lower hypostases, hence the 
presence of the fighting griffins (the up- 
per world) and predators (the nether 
world) is not accidental at all. However, 
the position of these figures with respect 
to one another is also subordinated to 
the task of expressing the cosmic pat- 
tern through the means of the topograph- 
ic code: the griffins fighting against the 
horses arc at the centre of the lower 
frieze, while the predators arc closer to 
its ends. In this way, the semantics of 
the pectoral reflects in another system 
of spatial coordinates the opposition be- 
tween centre and periphery, which cor- 
responds to the correlation between 
"above" and "below" 

However, the specific features dis- 
cussed so far do not exhaust the sc- 
mantically significant regularities of 
the compositional solution of the work 
of art under consideration. It is inter- 
esting to note the incomplete identity 
of its left and right side. Moreover, it 
should be borne in mind that the pec- 
toral must have been used not so much 
to be looked at. but rather as an ele- 
ment of the ritual apparel of its owner. 
Therefore, later we shall refer to the 
left and to the right side of the pecto- 
ral from the point of view of the per- 
son wearing it. not of the onlooker. 
The most remarkable difference be- 
tween the two parts is that in the right- 
hand part the predators are attacking 
a stag, on the left - a boar. The bird 
figurines linking the ends of the upper 
frieze also differ: there is a duck on 
the right and some bird of prey resem- 
bling a falcon on the left. The head of 
the human figure on the right, in the 
central scene, has a band-like diadem 
on his head, which is absent on the 

Fig. 60, The pectoral from Tolstaya 
Mogila. The central scene 

head of the person on the left. And 
finally, the different position of the 
gorytos with the bow for these figures: 
the one on the right has the gorytos 
hanging above his head, whereas for 
the person on the left it is lying on the 
ground. A careful scrutiny of this se- 
ries of differences will reveal that all 
of them reflect the opposition between 
■"above" and "below" in one way or 
another: in spatial or semantic (cos- 
mologicai) terms. This is reflected most 
clearly by the position of the bows. As 
rcgiuds the diadem, it is a status sym- 
bol, perhaps even something like roy- 
al insignia for a number of figures in 
Scythian works of art (e.g. for Hcraklcs- 
Targitaos on the cup from Kul- 
Oba). hence they marked the top of 
the social hierarchy. The different bird 
figurines already demonstrate the fa- 
miliar symbolism: the aquatic bird is 
connected with the corporal world, 
w hereby the bird of prey is associated 
with the world beyond, which - as we 
became convinced - is localized in the 
system of the pectoral precisely below, 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


under the human world. And finally, 
turning to the animals that are depict- 
ed as the prey, we must remember that 
the boar is the only carnivorous hoofed 
animal, which brings it closer to the 
predators, which arc correlated in the 
zoological symbolism of Scythia with 
the cosmic "below". It is curious, as 
E. V.Perevodehikova has noted, that the 
images of boars in Scythian animal 
style feature some techniques that are 
otherwise characteristic of the render- 
ing of predators only, and cannot be 
seen in ungulates. Therefore, boars in 
Scythian culture prove to be closer to 
the predators than to its related ani- 
mals according to the conventional 
zoological classification. 

Consequently, all signs for "above" 
proved to be correlated with the right- 
hand side of the pectoral, the elements 
for "below" - with the left-hand side. 
Similar semantic pairs are essentially 
cultural univcrsalia that can be traced 
both among ancient peoples and in con- 
temporary traditional cultures. 

Summarizing the analysis of the 

composition of the pectoral, we can say 
that the topographic code here seems to 
have been used in three "dimensions": 
in the opposition of the registers to one 
another, the centre and the periphery 
within each register, and finally their 
right and their left parts. All this com- 
plex system of relations has allowed the 
structure of the Cosmos to be depicted 
using different means in this work of 
art. as it appeared in the notions of the 

The next level of interpretation of 
the pectoral presupposes an analysis of 
the repertory of motifs represented in 
each of its registers. Let us start with the 
lower frieze. As we have noted already, 
it consists predominantly of battle scenes. 
In this connection, it is important pre- 
cisely which animals were the object of 
the assault: horses, stags and boars. It is 
remarkable that the excavations of Tol- 
staya barrow, where the pectoral was 
found, yielded the bones of precisely 
these three animal species- in the trench 
surrounding the barrow. Such a coinci- 
dence is not at all arbitrary. When Scyth- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

ians performed the burial rite, they usu- 
ally discarded in the trench the bones of 
the animals which the participants in 
the rite consumed in the course of the 
trisna, i.e. the ritual closely connected 
with the life that exists in spite of death, 
and even owing to death. However, we 
were convinced that such is the idea 
behind the images on the pectoral: the 
animals assaulted in the scenes of the 
lower register died in the name of the 
act of birth, incarnated in the images in 
the upper register, this is a sacrifice in 
the name of the multiplying of domestic 
animals, which were the biggest wealth 
of the Scythians. Horses, stags and boars 
were apparently the traditional set of 
sacrificial animals for the community to 
which the dynast buried in the Tolstaya 
barrow belonged, this is evidenced bolh 
by the content of the images on the pec- 
toral, and by the remains of the burial 

It is no less important that the scene 
of the attack of the horse by griffins has 
been repeated three times on the pecto- 
ral. This is indisputably connected with 
the idea about the ternary Cosmos in the 
Scythian picture of the world and with 
the circumstance that the horse is inter- 
preted in Scythia as a creature belong- 
ing to all three cosmic zones. The same 
idea probably underlies the tradition pre- 
sented in some Scythian barrows (e.g. 
in Chcrtonilyk) to build three additional 
graves containing horse burials during 
the funeral. 

At the same time, it must be noted 
that according to V.N.Toporov's hy- 
pothesis, the trisna ritual among the 
Indo-Europcans was initially character- 
ized by a ternary structure, again prompt- 
ed by the same cosmological idea and 
being expressed in its actual Slavonic 
name, derived from the root iri- mean- 
ing "three". In connection with the in- 
terpretation proposed by him, for this 
reason the trisna had to comprise the 
sacrifice of three animals, cither of the 
same or of different species. The pecto- 

ral depicts three types of ternary struc- 
ture: the lower frieze shows the death of 
three animals, whereby in all three cas- 
es the prey is a horse. 

This interpretation of the meaning 
of the lower fric/.c on the pectoral corre- 
lates well also with the presence of a 
scene of a hare being chased by a dog. 
This is one of the pictorial elements of 
the sacrificing of a hare; earlier we dis- 
cussed the meaning of this ritual as a 
means of guaranteeing fertility. 

The cricket, whose image ends the 
lower frieze of the pectoral on both sides, 
is specially associated with the lower 
world in the different ancient cultures. 
The fact that crickets arc presented here 
in pairs, male and female, undoubtedly 
expresses the same idea about the life- 
giving function of Nature, to which the 
entire content of this register is subordi- 

Let us turn now to the content of the 
upper frieze. As we mentioned already, 
it is dominated by the motif of the feed- 
ing of the voting, which suggests the 
main meaning of the composition. No 
less important is the actual assortment 
and the sequence of the creatures de- 
picted there. If we exclude the small 
figures of birds that flank the frieze and 
the images of the youths engaged with 
the milking, who perform a merely aux- 
iliary role, on bolh sides of the frieze, 
from the centre to the periphery, we sec 
a human being, a horse, a cow, a sheep 
and a goat. In the different Indo-Euro- 
pean - and above all Indo-Iranian - sys- 
tems, this is the traditional hierarchic 
order of the creatures to be sacrificed. 
Moreover, the ancient Indie tradition, 
for example, treats this order in the ag- 
gregate of all its components as "ftxc 
parts of livestock", and whoever knows 
this interpretation, ''possesses livestock, 
lives the years predetermined for him, 
lives in splendour, being rich in posteri- 
ty and livestock, and being great with 
g 1 o rv ■ " ( ( 7/ a\ ulogya Upon i shad a II, 18). 
In other words, the upper part of the 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


frieze can be considered as a kind of 
pictorial equivalent to the magic formu- 
la guaranteeing well-being, and above 
all multiplication of the livestock. 

Now we are to examine the princi- 
pal element of the decoration of the pec- 
toral: the central scene of the upper 
frieze. As was mentioned already, two 
male figures sewing a garment made of 
sheepskin are depicted. The first thing 
to be noticed is the specific character of 
the garment, which cannot be found on 
any image of a Scythian, whether made 
by a Greek artist or on a Scythian stone 
statue. Naturally, it may be assumed that 
Scythians usually wore such a garment 
with the fur on the inside and that only 
here it was depicted turned inside out. 
because the scene reproduced the proce- 
dure of its sewing. However, the ancient 
author Julius Polydcuces (VII. 70) men- 
tions a garment which existed among 
the Scythians, called sisirna, which he 
characterized as a "fur chiton, hairy and 
with sleeves". The special emphasis on 
the "hairiness" apparently presupposed 
that the furs of which the sisirna was 
made were turned with the fur out. Juli- 
us Polydcuces mentions nothing about 
the functions of the sisirna. but the very 
fact that it differed from the ordinary 
clothing of the Scythians, seems to sug- 
gest its ritual character. The actual pec- 
toral from Tolstaya barrow was also not 
intended for ordinary cult ceremonies. 
The hypothesis that it depicted the sew- 
ing of a garment to be worn in everyday 
life seems dubious; it is much more like- 
ly that the central scene depicted a pure- 
ly ritual act. This conclusion finds sup- 
port in abundant historical and ethno- 
graphic evidence. 

Since ancient times and to our days, 
different peoples have cherished the faith 
in the magic properties of the animal 
skin (of the sheep fleece in the first place) 
and of the clothes made of it, in their 
ability to secure fertility and all kinds of 
well-being and prosperity in general. As 
regards the antiquity, it is sufficient to 

mention the clothes of the Roman 
Lares, the links between the fleece and the 
Hittite Tclcpinus - the deity of Nature 
who is dying and is being reborn, the 
use of wool in the Eleusinian mysteries 
and in the cult of the Slav "god of live- 
stock" Vclcs-Volos. The more recent 
ethnography of some peoples is familiar 
with the custom of placing newlyweds 
on a sheepskin turned with the wool out, 
in order to guarantee numerous progeny 
for them; another custom was for the 
parents of the newlyweds to be dressed 
in such furs w hen they welcome the new- 
l\Avcd couple after the wedding. A sheep- 
skin coat turned inside out made the 
labour of women easier, while to stock- 
breeders it promised good and abundant 
offsprings of their domestic animals. 
Marw similar examples, borrowed from 
varied traditions, can be cited, but the 
arguments presented so far demonstrate 
sufficiently clearly the remarkable close- 
ness between all notions connected with 
the fleece and the complex of ideas de- 
fining the semantics of the pectoral as a 
whole, characterized earlier. It is no less 
important that the action depicted in the 
central scene - sewing - is also associ- 
ated with the notion of fertility and of 
the life-giving forces in Nature. In this 
way. the content of the scene becomes 
an integral element in the interpretation 
of the pectoral, proposed on the basis of 
the comprehensive analysis of its com- 
position and of all motifs included in its 

Naturally, it would have been much 
more tempting if we did not restrict our- 
selves to such a general interpretation of 
the scene and if we identified the partic- 
ipants in it with concrete figures from 
Scythian mythology. Unfortunately, 
among the preserved fragments we would 
not find even one whose decoration re- 
sembles in any way the content of the 
image studied. However, some indirect 
evidence allows us nevertheless to make 
certain definite comparisons. 

S.S.Bcssonova drew attention to a 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

detail in the legend written in Khorczm 
about Husham-Shah, Among (he 72 
crafts which that person learned from 
the demons and which he taught other 
people, there was the art to sew leather 
clothes. This evidence is even more in- 
teresting for us, bearing in mind that 
Husham-Shah was the hero Huseng. 
known to us from the ancient Iranian 
mythical and epic tradition. Shahnamc 
attributes the same cultural activity to 
Huseng: in the words of Firdousi. he 
taught people "to sew clothes from the 
skins of beasts" and advised them "to 
breed their domestic animals in pairs, 
so that there would be offspring". This 
lesson correlates directly with the con- 
tent of the upper frieze in our pectoral. 
In other words, the activities of Huseng 
as a typical mythological hcro-civilizcr 
feature most prominently those moments 
through which the upper frieze of the 
pectoral became a sign of the cultural 
and mastered world, opposed to the un- 
mastcred and chaotic world, which is 
depicted in the images on the lower 
frieze. Hence one of the heroes in the 
scene under consideration proved to be 
very close to Huseng in a number of his 

However, two persons are depicted 
on the pectoral. In the second chapter it 
was mentioned already that in the Irani- 
an tradition Huseng appeared together 
with his brother Vcgcrd. the first one 
being the progenitor of the kings and 
warriors, the second one - of the ordi- 
nary members of the community. As we 
have mentioned already, such a social 
hierarchy also characterizes the figures 
of interest to us in the central scene: it is 
demonstrated by the band-diadem on the 
head of one of them. i.e. a status sym- 

Having revealed this similarity of 
the heroes from the scene with Huseng 
and Vegerd, we cannot fail to remember 
that a functionally identical pair of fig- 
ures is also known from Scythian my- 
thology : these arc the brothers Palos and 

Napes from Diodorus' version of the ge- 
nealogical myth, the progenitors of the 
two social groups. Everything said ear- 
lier about the semantics of these images, 
as well as about their analogues - Ko- 
laxais and Arpoxais - from the other 
version of the myth, allows us to claim 
that it correlates fully with the place 
which the scene of interest to us occu- 
pies in the structure of the pectoral, with 
the opposition between its right and left 
side, expressing a whole system of spa- 
tial, cosmological and social relations. 
Jt is clear that the absence of evidence 
about a plot that would be similar to the 
content of that scene, whose heroes 
would be the cited Scythian mythologi- 
cal persons, docs not allow us to identify 
with them unambiguously the figures in 
the scene studied. However, it would be 
hardly correct to overlook the cited chain 
of such significant coincidences. 

And finally, we shall dwell on yet 
another point. According to the existing 
interpretation of the not perfectly clear 
A vesta n text devoted to the Goddess Arti 
(Asi) - last XVII. it reflects the incom- 
pletely preserved myth about the fight of 
two related tribal groups for this goddess 
and about her attempts to hide from them 
three times in a ram's fleece. One cannot 
fail to be impressed by the coincidence 
between numerous motifs of this recon- 
structed plot and the semantics of the 
pectoral reconstructed here. Two com- 
peting related clans appear in the myth - 
on the pectoral we sec two male figures, 
probably brothers; in the myth the god- 
dess hides from them three times - the 
entire structure of the pectoral also re- 
flects a tenia ry model; the goddess finds 
refuge in a sheepskin - a garment made 
of such a skin is the central clement in 
the composition on the pectoral as well; 
and finally Arti herself, according to the 
text of last XVII, grants material wel- 
fare, including the rich flocks, and it is 
precisely that aspect of life which deter- 
mines the entire content of the decora- 
tion of the pectoral and of its structure. 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology' 


Fig. 61. Bronze standard from the 
A lexandropol h arrow 

If such a comparison is justified, the 
pectoral from Tolstaya barrow proves to 
be an extremely convincing argument 
in confirmation of the argument pre- 
sented in the first chapter of this book 
about the identity of one of the goddess- 
es in the Scythian pantheon - Artimpa- 
sa - with the Iranian Arti, D. A. Machin- 
skiy already assumed the links between 
the pectoral and the cult of this Scythian 
goddess, but the Avestan evidence cited 
here, which is largely in support of this 
hypothesis, has unfortunately remained 
outside the scope of his research. 

Consequently, the pectoral from 
Tolstaya barrow has a very complex 
and multi-layered semantics. It is at 
the same time a cosmogram incarnat- 
ing the notion about the structure of 
the universe and a ritual attribute aimed 
at guaranteeing well-being and pros- 
perity to its owner and to the communi- 
ty winch he represented. Great skills 
were required of the Greek artist who 
made this masterpiece, he had to gain 
an insight into an alien mythology, to 
understand the mythological concepts 
inherent to it in the entire complexity 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

of the links characterizing them, and to 
find an adequate artistic rendering of 
this entire range of ideas. The artist 
has coped admirably with this task. As 
a result, we arc faced with a pictorial 
text which is not in the least inferior 
with respect to the wealth of the myth- 
ological information invested in h even 
to the most extensive narration of the 
Scythian myths, preserved by the an- 
cient authors. We have devoted so much 
attention to the analysis of the pectoral 
precisely because the penetration into 
the essence of such monuments enriches 
our notions about Scythian mythology to 
a no lesser extent than the knowledge 
of the written tradition. 

It should be pointed out that the 
appearance and the rather wide occur- 

rence of Greek goods and objects of art, 
similar to the analysed vessels and pec- 
toral in the Scythian environment, could 
not fail to influence significantly the en- 
tire cultural life of Scvthia. In fact, this 
contributed to the introduction of a new 
code in Scythian life, intended for the 
presentation and dissemination of cul- 
tural information, mythological infor- 
mation included. In addition to the sym- 
bolic zoomorphic compositions of the 
animal style or of Greek animalist art, 
there also appeared images of anthropo- 
morphic figures, including scenes and 
even narrative pictorial texts that render 
the mythological plot in evolution in the 
form of a cycle of successive scenes. 

This code disseminated rather quick- 
ly among the Scythians. It appears that 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 

» 121 

Scythian society at that time was experi- 
encing an acute need of such monu- 
ments. Greek artists quickly became 
aware of that need and responded \ cry 

However, the creation of strictly 
original compositions on themes and 
scenes that were entirely new to Greek 
art was not simple and by far not every 
Greek artist or goldsmith proved to be 
sufficiently competent and skilled to 
cope successfully with that task. The 
demand for objects of this type was 
clearly much higher than the supply, so 
Scythian craftsmen tried to satisfy these 
needs as best they could. This explains 
the appearance in the 4th century BC 
of anthropomorphic figures clearly 
made bv local craftsmen, in addition to 

Fig. 62. (ioddess with stags. Plaque from 
the Alexandropol harrow 

Fig. 63. A hero fighting agasinst a grif- 
fin. Bronze standard from 
Slonovskaya liliznitsa 

the highly artistic compositions "on 
Scythian themes" betraying the high 
class of Greek workmanship. Natural- 
ly. Scythian art was much inferior to 
the Greek, being rather coarse and prim- 
ilivc. but it is nevertheless interesting 
for us. because it strove to express the 
same mythological images and notions. 
We have already analysed in detail 
the standard from Lysaya Gora. which 
reflects Scythian notions about space. 
To the same group of works of art we 
should attribute perhaps the bronze stan- 
dards from the Alexandropol barrow, 
featuring the image of the Scythian god- 
dess (Fig. 61). Here she is depicted 
stripped to the waist, the lower part of 
her body being schematically rendered 
by means of radial lines, which appar- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

cnlly stood for the already familiar im- 
age of the deity having a snake-like or 
floral palmcttc instead of legs. Wings 
arc hinted behind the shoulders of the 
goddess. There is no doubt that the ana- 
lysed Greek images of the Scythian 
chthonic goddess served as models to 
the Scythian craftsman. 

Another image of a Scythian an- 
thropomorphic female deity has also 
been found in the same Alexandropol 
barrow, but this time on silver-plated 
iron plaques (Fig. 62). Here the figure 
of the goddess, given in full size and 
with wings spread behind her shoulders, 
serves as the vertical axis of the compo- 
sition, which also includes the protomes 
of two stags on both sides of the deity. 
The primitive workmanship does not pre- 
vent us from identifying in this compo- 
sition the already familiar pattern, called 
upon to render the notion about the struc- 
ture of space: the female figure symbol- 
izes the axis mundi. the animals on 
either side of her are correlated to the 
directions of the world. 

The bronze standards from the 
Slonovskaya Bliznitsa barrow demon- 
strate the rather rare case when the 
Scythian craftsman had tried to create a 
complex multi-figured composition (Fig. 
63). The image is so primitive in execu- 
tion that it is even difficult to discern its 
meaning. According to the most widely 
accepted interpretation of standards, it 
represented an anthropomorphic figure 
slaving a griffin with a lion's head with 
a short sword, while the griffin in its 
turn is killing some other beast. Accord- 
ing to the already familiar pattern from 
other battle scenes, this beast should be 
a hoofed animal; such is the interpreta- 
tion in another Scythian monument fea- 
turing a similar scene - on the gold 
applique from the barrow 7 near the vil- 
lage of Durovka. However, the artist who 
created the standards in question unjus- 
tifiably gave a predator's paws to that 
animal. B. N.Grakov treats the standards 
from Slonovskaya Bliznitsa as depicting 

one of the heroic deeds of Targitaos, 
fighting against some mythical monster. 

It is interesting to note that all these 
primitive anthropomorphic images in 
Scythian execution have been found in 
very rich burials of representatives of 
the higher Scythian aristocracy. For ex- 
ample, the Alexandropol barrow, from 
which some of the finds from this series 
originated, is the biggest among the royal 
barrows in Scythia. This confirms the 
theory that the reason for the existence 
of such objects is their relative cheap- 
ness compared with the Greek master- 
pieces, as well as the impossibility to 
meet the demand for pictorial monu- 
ments of mythological content exclusive- 
ly with Greek works of art. This circum- 
stance also gave rise to yet another sc- 
ries of very original monuments. 

Earlier, when we analysed the im- 
ages representing the ritual marriage of 
the Scythian king and the goddess, we 
mentioned the gold plaque found in the 
barrow near the village of Sakhnovka. 
Some years ago. the specific features of 
that plaque attracted the attention of 
S.S.Bcssonova and of the author of this 
book. We were impressed by the combi- 
nation of features characteristic of total- 
ly different levels of workmanship, 
which seem to be incompatible in one 
work of art. On the one hand, this is the 
striking coarseness and primitivencss of 
execution, coupled with the very poor 
organization of the space of the scene: 
main details are very unclear, the inter- 
vals between the figures arc very irregu- 
lar, and in some places figures are very 
close to one another. On the other hand, 
many elements bring the plaque from 
Sakhnovka close to the best examples of 
Gracco-Sc} thian lorculics. For example, 
the very attempt to depict a scene with 
so many - ten - figures is perfectly atyp- 
ical for the works of Scythian artists and 
craftsmen. Instead of simpler images in 
full face or profile, which are easier to 
depict, the scene is dominated by rather 
elaborate positions and postures. The ar- 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 

tistic solutions in the different groups of 
figures making up the composition are 
also extremely varied, and in its entirety 
it is characterized by a clear and well 
contemplated rhythm: practically all 
scenes are symmetrical with respect to 
the central one, which presents the actu- 
al moment of the ritual marriage. 

Such a combination of ostensibly 
incompatible specificities could be ex- 
plained, if we assume that the plaque 
from Sakhnovka was not a primary mon- 
ument, but was a copy of a highly artis- 
tic original, e.g. of the decoration in 
relief of some metal vessel of the type of 
the vase from Kul-Oba, being copied by 
purely mechanical means, e.g. by stamp- 
ing on a thin gold plaque. In this pro- 
cess many details of Ihc relief were 
obviously insufficiently clearly imprint- 
ed, and were finished by the not so skil- 
ful hand of the Scythian craftsman. Since 
the original scene was on a spheric sur- 
face, it was impossible to make an im- 
print of it on the fiat plaque in one go; 
this had to be done in parts, and by 
shifting the plaque from one place to 
another, the regularity of the intervals 
between the figures was broken. The 
proposed solution of the problem about 
the origin of the plaque from Sakhnov- 
ka also explains something nonsensical 
in the composition: the group of Scyth- 
ians on the extreme left, who arc offer- 
ing a sacrifice, are facing the end of the 
plaque, their backs being turned to the 
central scene. In the decorative system 
of the vessel this group was localized on 
that part of its surface, which is diamet- 
rically opposed to the central scene. 
hence the figures in it were also facing 
that central scene. 

Some other pictorial monuments in 
4th century BC Scythian barrows could 
also be assumed to have had a similar 
origin. They all demonstrate once again 
the increased demand for scenes and 
images with mythological content, as 
well as the existence of different ways of 
satisfying that demand. 

And finally, we should devote at- 
tention to yet another fact in the cultural 
history of Scythia at that time. Practi- 
cally simultaneously with the varied im- 
ages on themes from Scythian mytholo- 
gy, which we considered, numerous 
works of art decorated with scenes from 
Greek myths, executed indisputably by 
Greek artists and craftsmen, began to 
appear in Scythian barrows. There we 
find numerous images of Hcrakles, Me- 
dusa. Achilles, etc. Moreover, the types 
and shapes of the objects decorated with 
similar motifs were strictly local: gory- 
tos types, scabbards of akinakes-type 
swords, details from horse-trappings, etc. 
Consequently, these were objects intend- 
ed to be marketed precisely in a Scyth- 
ian environment and catering to the de- 
mand there. What should then be the 
explanation for the fact that they were 
decorated with the images of figures from 
Greek mythology? 

The most logical first thought ap- 
pears to be that the close cultural con- 
tacts between the Scythian and the an- 
cient world resulted in the propagation 
of the Greek cults in the Scythian envi- 
ronment, or at least that there was a 
Scythian interest in the Greek legends 
and myths, though devoid of any reli- 
gious substratum. Mam researchers tend 
to accept such an explanation. However, 
it allows to interpret by far not all facts 
connected with the existence of the an- 
cient works of art in Scythia. 

For example, it is perfectly unclear 
why the beginning of the propagation of 
Greek mythological images among the 
Scythians coincided precisely with the 
moment when the anthropomorphic im- 
ages of their own mythical figures gained 
popularity there. The process of pene- 
tration of Greek cults into Scythia must 
have been very long and gradual, there- 
fore the monuments and works of art 
reflecting had to be found in Scythian 
complexes sporadically at first, having 
become widespread only after a certain 
period of time. However, this hypothesis 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

docs not correspond to the laws govern- 
ing the distribution and propagation of 
the images in that scries in Scythian 
barrows. Another very important circum- 
stance is that Scythian monuments de- 
pict only a strictly limited range of Greek 
mythological images and scenes, while 
others - including those that were most 
important from the point of view of Greek 
religious and mythological thinking - 
were totally unknown in Scythia. For 
example, among the numerous images 
of Hcrakles, there is indisputable preva- 
lence of the scene in which he is fight- 
ing the lion (Fig. 64), or the images of 
that hero from the same myth, in which 
he is depicted with a helmet of a lion's 
scalp, AH of the other Labours of Hcrak- 
les were practically unknown here. Gory- 
ti decorated with scenes from the life of 
Achilles have already been found in four 
Scythian barrows. They depict in suc- 
cession a number of moments from his 
biography, from his childhood to his 
death, but precisely the most famous ep- 
isodes, that have defined the hero's fate 
and have served as the topic of many 
works of art, are lacking on the gorytos 
in question. Here one would seek in vain 
the dipping of the child Achilles inlo 
the waters of the Styx river, or scenes of 
the battles under the walls of Troy, or 
the meeting with Priamos, or the image 
of the chariot of Achilles, dragging Hec- 
tor's body. Researchers have long come 
to the conclusion that the goryti repro- 
duced only some of the scenes from the 
work of art which the Pontic artist used 
as his model; hence he had to make a 
certain selection of the motifs which he 
wished to depict, but it is not clear what 
criteria guided him to make that choice. 

All these facts acquire a logical ex- /ry,, £/, 
planation, assuming that in depicting 
scenes from Greek mythology, Scyth- 
ians were not interested in their genuine 
content so much, but rather in the close- 
ness of the scenes and motifs incarnated 
in them to some elements in their own 
mythology. Most probably, out of the 

Herakles strangling the Hon. 
Gold applique from 

Fig. 65. Scenes from the life of 

A ch Hies, Gold casing of a 
gory tosfroom Ch ertomlyk, 


D. Racvskiy Scythian M\ thology 



Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

Fig. 66. Medusa, Herakles, 

4 'Silenus ' \ Gold appliques 
on a horse's bridle. 
Chmyreva barrow 

vast repertory of ancient mythological 
iconography the Scythians chose to dec- 
orate their monuments only with those 
motifs which could be interpreted rela- 
tively easily as personifications of the 
heroes of Scythian myths. As we have 
noted earlier, such an attempt had al- 
ready been made at the dawn of Scyth- 
ian history. However, it failed then, be- 
cause in the strictly canonical art of the 
Ancient East or of the early Ionic cities, 
with the poor arsenal of images and 
patterns, it was very difficult to find 
images that would be susceptible to such 
an interpretation. Later Greek art. be- 
ing much freer in the choice of themes 
and images to depict, as well as being 
richer in positions, postures of the fig- 
ures and their various artistic render- 
ings, provided many more opportuni- 
ties for attaining this goal. With that 
interpretation in mind, the role of im- 
ages and scenes borrowed into Scythian 
culture from Greek mythology, proved 
to be perfectly identical to the role played 
by the other anthropomorphic pictorial 
works of art, which were widespread 

during the same period, especially Scyth- 
ian and Graeco- Scythian ones. 

In the past. B.N.Grakov drew atten- 
tion to the abundance of gold appliques 
decorated with the image of Hcrakles 
fighting against the lion in Scythian bar- 
rows, and he launched the hypothesis that 
the Scythians perceived them as personi- 
fications of their own mythical progeni- 
tor. Targilaos-Hcrakles. fighting against 
and defeating some monster. The assump- 
tion put forward earlier that in Scythian 
mythology the predator stood for the 
chlhonic world, the world of death, cor- 
relates well with such an interpretation. 
Actually, these images reflect the idea of 
overcoming death, which was so im- 
portant in the system of notions of Scythian 
society. Of analogous significance here 
were the images of the victory of the 
Scythian-looking figure over the griffins, 
the scene of the fight against the dragon- 
like predator, decorating the comb from 
Gaymanovaya barrow, discussed in the 
second chapter of the book, as well as the 
scene decorating the standard from 
Slonovskava Bliznilsa. 

D. Rjicvskiy Scythian Mythology 


Naturally, the Scythian interpre- 
tation of the images of Herakles as 
personifications of the local mythical 
figure were made easier by the cir- 
cumstance that - as suggested by the 
versions of the Scythian genealogical 
myth, preserved by Herodotus and by 
other ancient authors - this hero was 
traditionally identified with Targitaos 
in the Northern Pontic region. This 
cannot be said about other Greek dei- 
ties and heroes, whose images were 
quite typical of Scythian complexes. 
On the cont ran', the figures which 
Herodotus identified with deities from 
the Scythian pantheon - Zeus, Posei- 
don, Ares, and others - were not at all 
represented in the decorative patterns 
of Scythian monuments. Apparently, 
the rcinterprctation of the images is 
based not so much on the general con- 
tent of the Scythian myths or on the 
functional essence of their personifi- 
cations, but rather on the concrete 
specificities of the reinterpreted im- 
ages: the specificity of the image of the 
mythological creature or the character 

of the scene, which find closer or more 
distant analogies in the myths of the 
Scythians. Sometimes this resulted in 
the formation of new pictorial texts, 
quite unexpected from the standpoint 
of the proper Greek tradition. 

It is interesting to note, for instance, 
the repertory on the appliques from 
horse-trappings found in Chmyreva bar- 
row (Fig. 66). They arc decorated with 
the images of three Greek mythological 
characters: Herakles wearing the lion's 
helmet, the Gorgon Medusa with hair 
like snakes, and the so-called Silcnus - 
an ugly man with a flat nose and very 
full lips. Their inclusion in the decora- 
tion of a bridle seems to imply a definite 
semantic unity. However, from the point 
of view of Greek mythology, these char- 
acters arc not at all interconnected. On 
the other hand, if we accept the hypoth- 
esis that their images were interpreted 
in Scythia in accordance with the con- 
tent of the local myths, we obtain a logi- 
cal explanation of such a combination. 
Let us recall the epigraphic version of 
the Scythian genealogical myth: Herak- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

lcs defeated the water (chthonic) crea- 
ture - Araxes - and married his daugh- 
ter Echidna (the snake-legged goddess). 
From everything said so far, Hcraklcs 
wearing the lion's helmet (i.e. having 
defeated the lion) in the appliques from 
the Chmyrcva barrow, was the winner 
over the chthonic forces; Medusa, with 
her snake-like hair, was undoubtedly a 
variant of the snake-like chthonic crea- 
ture, an analogue of Echidna. In that 
case, we have every reason to assume 
that the "Silenus" image was treated in 
Scythia as the personification of the third 
principal figure in the cited Scythian 
myth: the chthonic monster Araxes. 

It is curious that the images of Me- 
dusa and of the "Silcntis" were com- 
bined in the decoration of yet another 
Scythian work of art: the gold phi ale 
from Kul-Oba (Fig. 67). This vessel is 
very similar in shape and decoration to 
the already analysed phialc from the So- 
lokha barrow. Similarly, the phiale from 
Kul-Oba has an umbo in the central part 
of its bottom, surrounded by three rows 
of images which, according to the pro- 
posed interpretation, symbolize the ter- 
nary chthonic world. However, if on the 
Solokha vessel this is designated by three 
rows of battle scenes, on the phialc from 
Kul-Oba we see two rows of masks of 
Medusa and a number of "Silcntis*' im- 
ages. This is in confirmation of the as- 
sumption that the latter were also inter- 
preted in Scythia as one of the chthonic 
deities (Araxes, Borysthcncs, etc.). 

It should be noted that Medusa's 
masks were the most frequent image in 
the ancient mythological iconography of 
Scythia. in addition to the image of Hcr- 
aklcs. This fact confirms better than any- 
thing else his firm position in the local 
system of notions. 

And finally, let us consider the cit- 
ed gorvti, decorated with scenes from 
the life of Achilles (Figs. 65, 68) The 
fact that such images produced using 
the same mould have been found four 
times testifies to the extreme popularity 

Fig. 67. Detail from a gold phiale from 

of the image among the Scythians and 
to the importance of the notions behind 
it in the system of Scythian ideology. 
What could be the interpretation of that 
image in Scythia? In order to find the 
answer to this question. let us look at 
the scene which serves as an introduc- 
tion to the entire pictorial narrative. It is 
usually interpreted as a moment of teach- 
ing the young Achilles how to shoot 
with a bow. However, one cannot fail to 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


notice that the interpretation of that 
scene here can easily be perceived also 
as an episode in which the older man is 
handing over the bow to the younger 
one. Then that episode reveals a direct 
semantic connection with the content of 
the story about the trials of the three 
sons of Targitaos, and the rendering of 
that story on the vessel from the Voron- 
ezh barrow, analysed in the second chap- 
ter. Indeed, there the youngest brother 

who was victorious is depicted as a 
beardless youth, whereas on the gorytos 
a child is receiving the bow. Neverthe- 
less, such variations are perfectly com- 
mon in folklore: in the cases when the 
hero's youth is an important element of 
the story, an extreme form for the ex- 
pression of that idea would be to refer 
the episode in question to the period of 
his childhood. 

The next scene shown on the gory- 


Mythology of the Scythians in Visible Images 

tos reflects the moment when Achilles is 
discovered on the island of Skyros, where 
he was hiding among the daughters of 
king Lykomedes. As is known from the 
Greek myth, the cunning of Odysseus 
made it possible to find the hero, although 
he was dressed in women's clothes. He 
penetrated into the palace as a merchant 
offering different commodities to the 
king's daughters, among which there were 
weapons as well. Achilles naturally 
reached for the weapons. In fact, the scene 
on the gorytos may be interpreted as the 
hero's trial with weapons, in order to re- 
veal his true warrior's nature, and we saw 
that this was precisely the function of the 
trial proposed to the sons of Targitaos in 
the Scythian myth. Actually, the first two 
episodes shown on the gorytos depict to- 
gether the form and the essence of that 
episode of the Scythian myth. The third 
scene - the parting of Achilles with king 
Lykomedes - is also semantically close 
to it. Its indisputable belonging to the 
same Scythian myth is evidenced by the 
way in which it appears on the gorytos 
(the young victor in the trial and the old 
man). A semantically analogous scene 
was seen, for example, on the cup from 
Kul-Oba. In this way, all three groups 
forming the upper row in the composi- 
tion of the gorytos correlate well with the 
trial story and w ith the investiture of the 
mythical first king of the Scythians, the 
youngest of the sons of Targitaos- 

In the lower row we see the scene 
in which Achilles is putting on his ar- 
mour, which is another emphasis of his 
warrior's nature. However, the Scyth- 
ian figure is also the progenitor of war- 
riors, hence this scene was perfectly 
relevant in the pictorial narrative about 
him. Finally, the composition ends with 
the image of Thetis, Achilles' mother, 
holding the urn which contains his ash- 
es; this is evidence of the hero's death 
and is the episode ending the narrative. 
As we have seen, the death of the young- 
est of the brothers brought the story 

Fig. 68. Scenes front the life of Achilles. 
Gold casing of a gorytos from 
Chert omlyk 

about the son of Targitaos in the Scyth- 
ian tradition to an end. 

In other words, Scythian goryti 
proved to demonstrate only those epi- 
sodes in the biography of Achilles and 
moreover in such a specific rendering, 
which have direct parallels in the myth 
about the progenitor of the warriors' 
caste and the first king of Seythia - 
about the hero called Kolaxais in one 
of the versions of the Scythian genea- 
logical myth. It is also hardly a coinci- 
dence that all these scenes were used 
for the decoration of the gorytos - the 
sheath for the bow, i.e. the same at- 
tribute which was correlated in Scyth- 
ian mythology with that hero and with 
the social group stemming from him. 

In the light of the hypothesis about 
the rcinterprctation to which the ren- 
dering of themes from Greek mytholo- 
gy was subjected in a Scythian environ- 
ment, it is easv to understand the rather 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


- '>'■ "■'■ , - 



1 A 







strict selection of the works of art be- 
longing to that cycle, found in Scythia, 
with the multiple repetition of some 
motifs and the complete ignoring of 
others. Naturally, we cannot always suc- 
ceed in determining exactly what con- 
tent the Scythians "read" in one Greek 
image or another, because our know- 
ledge about the narrative tissue of Scyth- 
ian mythology is rather incomplete. One 
cannot likewise rule out the sporadic 
penetration into Scythia of objects, the 
images on which were perceived by the 
indigenous population as being purely 
decorative. But most probably such im- 
ages were very few, because in the ar- 
chaic age, when mythology played such 
an important role, the objects decorat- 
ed with "accidental motifs" would sim- 
ply have found no market. 

Concluding the brief survey of pic- 
torial works of art found in Scythian 
complexes, we can say that in spite of 

their different origin, their belonging to 
different cultural traditions and the dif- 
ferent workmanship of their execution, 
they all served one purpose: performing 
the role of mythological texts that have 
incarnated the typical Scythian notions 
about the Universe, about the order gov- 
erning the Cosmos and about the ways in 
which cosmic and social stability can be 
achieved. In nonliterary societies such 
pictorial texts - in addition to oral verbal 
formulae - were the principal means of 
communication between the world of gods 
and the world of human beings, the main 
sphere for expressing religious and myth- 
ological concepts. The verbal formulae 
of the Scythians have been irretrievably 
lost. Hence pictorial formulae are so much 
more important for reconstructing the 
spiritual life of Scythia. Without their 
studying, our knowledge about Scythian 
mythology would have been infinitely 




Gradually, step by step, we exam- 
ined the available sources containing in 
one form or another information about 
Scythian mythology and about the world 
outlook typical of the Scythians, reflect- 
ed in it. At a first glance, all these sources 
seem totally unrelated, however further 
analysis also reveals coincidences be- 
tween the reports of the ancient sources 
and the pictorial works of art, as well as 
a unity of the key structural configura- 
tions incarnated in them in different ways 
and using the means of different codes. 
All this leads us to the following con- 
clusion: the mythology of the Scythians, 
ostensibly lost irretrievably due to the 
absence of original verbal texts, which 
would belong to the Scythian cultural 
environment proper, could nevertheless 
not only be reconstructed, but it is re- 
vealed before us in all the splendid vari- 
ety of its manifestations. 

We became familiar with some - 
indeed not too many - scenes and sto- 
ries of Scythian myths, we saw how these 
people imagined the establishing of or- 
der in the world and how they perceived 
that order; we succeeded in revealing 
some specific features of the social and 
political structure of society, which - 
according to Scythian notions - dated 
back to the time of the "creation of the 
world"; we also found out what ritual 
acts were called upon to preserve the 
stability of these institutions and hence 
to guarantee the well-being of Scythia, 
which was following the patterns of be- 
haviour bequeathed to it by the ances- 
tors; we saw the role of the monuments 
of mythological art in the life of the 
Scythians, with their reproduction in 
terms of scenes or symbolic images of 
the same structure of the creation of the 
world, whose emergence was the central 
story in Scythian mythology. 

Naturally, the essentially different 
nature of the adduced monuments in 
itself deprives us of the possibility to 
present consistently the topic of interest 
to us: the things in the stories of Herodo- 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


tus about the Scythian deities and he- 
roes, or about the rituals that existed in 
Scythian invironment, which originally 
seemed sufficiently clear to us, required 
preliminary decoding in the symbolic 
pictorial monuments, for which it was 
necessary to find first a key for reading 
such a monument. But then when we 
eventually could read it, we obtained 
additional data about those aspects of 
Scythian mythology, on which ancient 
tradition has shed very little light, and 
in this way we were able to expand sub- 
stantially our notions about it. Some- 
times the actual content of the monu- 
ment gave us such a "reading", in other 
cases it was necessary to turn to the 
analysis of the general intrinsic regular- 
ities of mythological thinking and to the 
ways in which it is reflected in "texts" 
of different types. The latter cases are, 
understandably, a little more difficult to 
comprehend, especially for readers who 
are not familiar in detail with the con- 
temporary science about the myths and 
about the role which they played in the 
life of the ancient communities. There- 
fore, it is possible that those sections in 
the book, in which the proposed recon- 
struction is based on the specific meth- 
ods of that science, might seem less con- 
vincing that the sections devoted to the 
Scythian narrative myths in their "pure 
form". However, the author assumes that 
the intricate network of interrelations, 
discovered among the various elements 
of the Scythian mythological picture of 
the world, rendered in different ways, 
serves to a certain extent in itself as 
evidence about the non-accidental char- 
acter of all coincidences discussed, thus 
lending support to the proposed inter- 
pretations. There is no doubt that some 
of the hypotheses expressed on the pag- 
es of this book will be disproved in the 
future, or other concrete aspects will be 
added to them in the course of further 
research on the problems discussed. 
Nevertheless, perhaps without the prelimi- 
nary analysis of the varied material in 

its aggregate complexity, undertaken in 
this book, it would not have been neces- 
sary at all to talk about Scythian my- 
thology as about a phenomenon which 
is susceptible to being investigated. 

There is also an aspect of the prob- 
lem to which we have devoted less at- 
tention until this moment than it un- 
doubtedly deserves. This is the role 
which all mythological concepts dis- 
cussed played in the real socio-political 
life of the concrete community. Inciden- 
tally, history and mythology were indis- 
solubly linked in the archaic communi- 
ties: in those times people perceived 
everything tliat happened to them as a man- 
ifestation of the intrinsic laws incarnat- 
ed in the myth, and the content of the 
myth explained to them in advance what 
could happen to them and what was 
bound to happen. This is precisely why 
Scythian mythology is of interest to us 
not only from the point of view of their 
content, but also as an instrument for 
understanding the Scythian's own views 
about the world around him, and ac- 
cordingly - as a key to the entire Scyth- 
ian culture. 

In order to reconstruct the mytholo- 
gy of the Scythians, we have constantly 
used as a source not only written texts, 
but also the material objects and monu- 
ments which used to belong in the past 
to real Scythian life. This is why, we 
inevitably approached this mythology not 
only as the object of analysis by arm- 
chair scholars, isolated from the sur- 
rounding context, but we also constant- 
ly interfered in the sphere of its real 
existence in a Scythian environment and 
touched upon the problem of the role it 
played in Scythian society. Neverthe- 
less, in conclusion we would like to ad- 
duce yet a few more examples about this 
live existence of the Scythian myth. 

As we can recall, the concluding 
passages of the Scythian genealogical 
myth tell about the emergence of the 
tripartite caste system, which deter- 
mined the social structure of Scythian 



society. Naturally, this system could not 
in any way exhaust the entire complex 
stratification of society in Scythia, just 
as the ternary model identical to it did 
not exhaust the structure of the society 
of the Indo-Iranians from much earlier 
times. In reality, the social organism of 
Scythia was much more complex. The 
archaeologist E.P.Bunatyan recently 
analysed a large number of ordinary 
Scythian burials dated to the 4th centu- 
ry BC. That researcher discovered in 
them an elaborate gradation that cor- 
responded to the property status of the 
deceased and to the amount of labour 
invested in each sepulchral construc- 
tion. Her analysis does not include the 
tumuli built for the Scythian aristocra- 
cy, which in their turn are not at all 
homogeneous cither. The objective dif- 
ferentiation of Scythian society was be- 
hind all that variety. Nevertheless, in 
the course of centuries - since the ep- 
och of Indo-Iranian unity ^t least until 
the end of the Scythian period - the 
Scythians themselves viewed their so- 
ciety through the prism of the tripartite 
model, whose origin can be traced back 
to the mythical times of the first ances- 
tors, and in their eyes it was that struc- 
ture which determined its social orga- 
nization. E.A.Grantovskiy drew atten- 
tion to the information contained in 
Lucian's novel called Scythian or Guest. 
Lucian lived in the 2nd century AD. 
but in his narratives about the Scyth- 
ians he used mainly sources that paint- 
ed the picture of the 4th-3rd century 
BC. The fragment of interest to us tells 
about the hero who was known to have 
originated not from a "royal family". 
not from the pilophoroi, i.e. from the 
people who wore the sacred pilos on 
their heads, but from the mass of Scyth- 
ians, from ordinary people. According 
to the observations of E.A.Grantovskiy. 
the stratification reflected here is iden- 
tical to the one about whose emergence 
the myth refers: the royal family corre- 
sponds to the Paralatae, the pilophoroi 

were the pricsts-Auchatai, whereas or- 
dinary people were referred to as Ka- 
tiaroi and Traspies in the mythological 
tradition. This is evidence about the 
living propagation of this notion in the 
Scythian world. 

Unfortunately, for the time being 
we have been unable to distinguish the 
mass of burials investigated by archae- 
ologists and to classify them into these 
three categories. It is particularly diffi- 
cult to discern the specific features of 
the burials of priests. Incidentally, the 
graves of the representatives of that caste 
arc generally very difficult to differenti- 
ate in ancient monuments. For example, 
it is still practically impossible to dis- 
cern the burials of druids among the 
Celtic graves in Central Europe. More- 
over, we saw that in Scythia there exist- 
ed a tendency to push this social group 
as an autonomous caste, its functions 
being usurped by kings and by the mili- 
tary aristocracy: let us recall the struc- 
ture of Scythian society, as reflected in 
Diodonis' version of the genealogical 

The other example concerns the po- 
litical institution stemming from the 
three sons of Koiaxais. According to the 
Scythian tradition, they were the pro- 
genitors of the three kings that ruled 
over Scythia. which was divided into 
three parts. The Scythian epic story about 
the war against Darius, recorded by 
Herodotus, testifies that this was pre- 
cisely the organization of the Scythian 
troops during that campaign as well; 
each king led his own troops, but one of 
them - Idanthyrsos - was the supreme 
military commander and apparently the 
supreme ruler of Scythia. 

There is yet another evidence about 
this structure, and the interpretation of 
the images of the animal style, cited 
earlier, makes it possible for it to be 
revealed. Several rich military burials, 
dated to the Early Scythian period, were 
discovered along the middle course of 
the Kuban river, in the Northern Cauca- 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


sus, in the beginning of this century. 
For many years specialists have been 
arguing about the ethnic belonging of 
the deceased, i.e. whether they should 
be attributed to the Scythians or to the 
Maeotae from Kuban. However, recent 
research has shown that the steppes of 
the Fore-Caucasus were the springboard 
for the Scythians during the period of 
their campaigns into Western Asia, 
which allows to attribute to them the 
Kuban barrows with the highest degree 
of probability. Our attention should be 
attracted by two of them, which are lo- 
cated relatively close to one another: the 
first one near the village of Kostrom- 
skaya, the second one belonging to the 
well-known Kclcrmes necropolis. The 
grave goods belonging to the chieftains 
buried in these barrows included shields 
decorated with precious appliques in the 
form of emblems. The shield from the 
Kostromskaya barrow was decorated 
with a gold stag figure, which was dis- 
cussed earlier, whereas the Kelermes 
shield featured the famous panther im- 
age. Let us recall that according to the 
proposed interpretation, these animals 
symbolized the middle and the lower 
world in the system of images of the 
animal style. And in accordance with 
the laws of the mythological interpreta- 
tion of the world, the three kings of 
Seythia had to be interpreted undoubt- 
edly as belonging to the three levels of 
the Cosmos. Could the appliques on the 
shields from the Kuban barrows then be 
evidence that the union of Scythian tribes 
that lived there between the 7th and the 
6th century BC was organized in accord- 
ance with the tradition stemming from 
the sons of Kolaxais? And should it not 
be expected that the excavations which 
were renewed here quite recently would 
yield in the future a shield decorated 
with the figure of an eagle or griffin? 

However, the history of the reign of 
the three kings proved to be shorter than 
the life of the other Scythian mythologi- 
cal institutions. The activities of the 

Scythian king Ataias are dated to the 
4th century BC approximately. Ancient 
sources characterize him as the ruler of 
all Barbarians along the Pontic coasts, 
without mentioning even a word about 
the existence of other kings near him. In 
the past B.N.Grakov interpreted this in- 
formation as proof that in order to cen- 
tralize Seythia and to consolidate his 
power. Ataias usurped the power over 
the whole of Seythia, thus breaking the 
traditional system of reigning over the 
kingdom. However, in order to make 
this power completely legitimate in the 
eyes of his subjects, he - in the opinion 
of that researcher - nevertheless had to 
base his actions on the genuine mytho- 
logical concepts, therefore he proclaimed 
himself to be the successor of Targitaos- 
Heraklcs, which had been the claim of 
his predecessors for a long time. As 
B.N.Grakov assumes, this circumstance 
also explains the abundance of images 
of Hcrakles in Scythian barrows from 
that time. 

This hypothesis found brilliant con- 
firmation when several years after the 
cited hypothesis was made public, the 
coins minted by Ataias in the Greek 
Pontic cities became known (Figs, 69 
and 70). On the reverse there is a Scyth- 
ian horseman, depicted in that artistic 
fashion which was so characteristic of 
the Greek compositions on Scythian 
themes. On the obverse of a number of 
coins from that group we see the head of 
Hcrakles with a lion's helmet, which is 
customary in ancient numismatics. This 
confirms the opinion that in his striving 
to prove the legitimacy of his power, 
Ataias resorted to the same Scythian 
myth, which served as a substantiation 
of the god-given character of the politi- 
cal institutions in Seythia during the pre- 
vious centuries of Scythian history. The 
choice of a Greek iconographic variant 
for depicting the mythical progenitor was 
motivated by the fact that the coinage of 
Ataias had to present him as a legiti- 
mate ruler of Seythia not only in the 



eyes of his own subjects, but also before 
the Greek Pontic cities; as we have seen, 
at that time the image of Herakles had 
merged in Pontic art with the image of 
the local hero Targitaos. 

It is curious that several decades be- 
fore Ataias, images closely related to the 
content of the same Scythian myth had 
already penetrated the coin minting of 
the Northern Pontic area. At the end of 
the 5th century BC, the city of Olbia 
minted coins with the name of EMI- 
NAKES and with the image of Herakles 
in a lion's skin, kneeling with one leg 
and pulling the string of his bow (Fig. 
71). This image correlates directly with 
the composition on the vase from Kul- 
Oba and with the content of the story 
about the trials of the sons of Hcraklcs- 
Targitaos. The name EMINAKES is non- 
Greek in origin and a number of research- 
ers assume that he was a Scythian king 
who ruled over Olbia in some form or 
another. If this is so, we come to the 
following conclusion: in the first case, 
when Scythian kings resorted to minting 
of coins for some reason, they drew the 
motif to be depicted on the coin from the 
same myth which had served for many 
years as proof of the god-given character 

of the power of the Scythian kings, and 
which was later used by Ataias as well. 

However, this theme is depicted dif- 
ferently on the coin of EMINAKES and 
on the vessel from Kul-Oba: in the first 
case the sacred act of the pulling of the 
bow-string is performed by Herakles, in 
the second case - by his son. Does this 
difference have a meaning? If the insti- 
tution of the three kings still existed in 
Scythia at the end of the 5th century 
BC. the depicting of the victorious son 
only meant an encroachment on the sov- 
ereignty of the two other Scythian kings; 
under these conditions, Herakles 1 figure 
was sufficiently neutral and at the same 
time very significant. The author of the 
cup from Kul-Oba not only did not evade 
this risky situation, but he intentionally 
emphasized the defeat of the two elder 
brothers. Could this reflect the circum- 
stance that at the time of Ataias the 
ancient Scythian myth had acquired a 
new meaning; perhaps it already had to 
furnish arguments not in favour of the 
inter-caste hierarchy of Scythian society 
and not of the supremacy of one king 
over the other two, but the emphasis had 
to be on the rule of one king only, which 
had replaced the earlier institution of 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


the three kings? The new times gave 
rise to a new understanding about the 
ancient ideological institutions, but still 
within the frameworks of the traditional 
mythological world outlook about the 

$ $ $ 

Fig. 69. Coin of king Ateius, reverse 

Fig. 70. Coin of king Ataias, obverse 
Fig. 7L Olhian coin of Eminakos 

Every year archaeological excava- 
tions yield new monuments of Scythian 
culture, which await their comprehen- 
sive interpretation. The first acquaint- 
ance with such new finds does not al- 
ways allow us to imagine fully the his- 
torical and cultural-historical informa- 
tion that can be gleaned from them. Only 
by comparing them with all available 
data, they gradually become a valuable 
source, more specifically a source on the 
history of Scythian ideology. Examples 
in this respect have been adduced on 
many occasions on the pages of this book. 
Since the excavations of Scythian mon- 
uments are unusually intensive nowa- 
days, there is every reason to anticipate 
that our knowledge about Scythian my- 
thology and about its place in the life of 
the Scythians would increase with every 
year and would become more complete. 

JL«5o Bibliography 


Benveniste, E. Traditions indo- 
iranienncs sur les classes sociales. 
Journal asiatique, 1983, vol. 230. 

Brandenstcin, W. Abstammungssagen 
der Skythcn. Wiener Zeiischrift fur die 
Kun cle des A forgen I an des, 1953, Bd . 


Cassircr, E. The Philosophy of 
Symbolic Forms. Vol. 2. New Haven, 

Christen sen, A Les types du premier 
homme et du roi dans I'histoire 
legendaire des I rani ens, Pt. 1. 
Stockholm. 1917. 

Dumezil, G. La prchistoire indo- 
iranienne des castes. Journal asiatique, 
1930, vol 216. 

Dumezil, G. Romans de Skythie et 
d'aleniour. Paris, 1978. 

IY1 i n n s , E . H . Scyth ians an d Greeks. 
Cambridge. 1913. 

Nyberg, H.S. Die Religionen des alien 
Iran. Leipzig. 1938. 

Rostovtzeff, M. Iranians and Greeks 
in South Russia. Oxford. 1922. 

Rostovtzeff, M. Animal Style in South 
Russia and China. Princeton, 1929. 

Widengren, G. Die Religionen Irans. 
Stuttgart, 1965. 

AfiacK, B.M. Ocemunckuu niuk u 
cfoAbkAop. T. I. MockBa- 
AemiHapag, 1949. 

A6acB, B.M. KyAbm ceMii 60208 y 
ckiid>oB. B: JJpeBmm Atup. MockBa, 

AGaeB, B.M. Ckii(j)o-eBponeuckue 
ii302AOCCbi. I fa cm bike Bocmoka u 
Janacja. MockBa, 1965. 

D. Racvskiy Scythian Mythology 


A6acB, B.M. O Hekomopbix 
AUHzBucmiiMeckux acnekmax 
cku^o-capMamckou npo6AeMbi. B; 
Tlpo6ACMbi cku<f>ckou apxeoAoeuu. 
MockBa, 1971. 

Ahoxuh, B.A. MoHembi cku<j)cko2o 
uapn Amen. HyMU3Atamuka a 

cfipaeucmuka, Bbin. 2. KueB, 1965. 

ApmaivioiioB, M.M, 

O 3eMAe8Aagemiu u 

seMAegeAbMeckoM npa3gHuke y 

cku<{)o6. Vnaihie sanucku 

A eiiumpagckoeo eocygapcmBennoeo 

ynuBepcumema, 95. Aemmapag, 


ApmaivioiioB, M.M. 

AHmponoMop(J)Hbie 6o>kecmBa B 
peAU2iiu ckiupoB. ApxeoAoeuneckuii 
c6opnuk Focygapcm Ba uioeo 
3pjHumajka, Bbin, 2. AemiHapag, 

ApmaivioiioB, M.M. CokpoBuufa 
cku<fickux kypeanoB 8 co6pcmuu 
focygapcn i Benuoeo Dp At u mcoka . 
AeHimapag-FIpaaa, 1966. 

ApmaivioiioB, M.M. 

llpoucxo>kgeHue ckii(|)cko2o 
uckyccmBa. CoBemckax 
apxeoAoeux, Ns 4, 1968. 

ApmaivioiioB, M.M. KuMAtepuiiiibi u 

ckucfybi. AeHUH2pag, 1974. 

BccconoBa, C.C. PeAueuo3iibie 
npegcmaBAcuuM cku(poB. KueB, 

BccconoBa, C.C, JJ.CPaeBckuii. 

3oAoma nAacmima i3 CaxHiBku. 
ApxeoAonx, Bbin. 21. KiriB, 1977. 

EuGukoBa, B.M. K 

ocrneoA02UMecko2o MainepuaAa U3 

ckii(j)cko2o kyp2aHa ToAcman 
MoaiiAa. CoBemckax 
apxeoAoeux, JVL> 4, 1973. 

iiitj ii\H, K.C. ^ocAig>keHUH 
FauManoBoi MoauAU. 
ApxeoAoeix. Bbin. I. Kui8, 1971. 

Boiizapg-AeBuii, F.M., 

Om Ckiu|nni go Vlnguu. JJpeBnue 
a pun: Atacfihi u ucmopux. 
Fhgamie 2-e. MockBa, 1983, 

Bpaiuuuckuii, M.B. B nouckax 
ckurpckux cokpo Buwj . 
AemiH2pag, 1979. 

H*ni»!vuimiiiia, M.M. PaHHue 
naMammikii ckii(j)cko2o 
3BepiiHG2o cmuAM. CoBemckax 
apxeoAOHix* JML» 2, 1963. 

Fpakoft, B.IL Cku(J)ckuu FepakA. 
Kpamkue coofnifenux 
Mncmumyma ucmopuu 
AiamepuaAbHou kyAbtnypbi. Bbin. 
XXXIV. Mock6a-AeHUH2pag, 

FpakoB, B.IL Ckiufibt. MockBa, 

FpaiimoBckiai, 3.A. MHgo- 
upaHckue kacmbi y cku<j>oB. B: 
XXV Mokgyitapognbiu kompecc 
Boemoko Bcgofi j][okAagbi 
gcAe?aiad\ CCCP y 1960. 

FpanmoBckuu, 3.A. Paunxx 
ucmopux upanckux nAeMen 
riepegneii A nm. MockBa, 1970. 

FpaiimoBckuii, 3.A. F[po6AeMbi 
inyMemui o6iuecmBeHH020 
cmpoH cku<])oB. Becmuuk 
gpcBueu ucmopuu, M> 4, 1980. 



/Juckycuoiuibie npoSACMbi 

omenecmBeHHou cku(j)OA02iiu 
(KpyzAbiu chioa). Hapogu Asuu a 
Afipuku, M 5, 6, 1980. 

J^ioivicauAb, JK, Ocemwickuii jnoc 
u Mit<fioAoeuM. MockBa, 1976. 

EAbiiunkuii, A.A. M3 ucmopiiu 
gpeBHocku<j)ckux kyAbinoB. 
CoBemckan apxeoAoeun, M4, 1960. 

>Ke6eAe8, C.A. CeBepnoe 
YlpuHepnoMopbe. MockBa- 
AemiH2pag, 1953. 

HAbuiickan, B.A. Hekomopbie 
MomuBbi paHHeckud)cko20 
sBepuHoao cmiiM. CoBemckax 
apxeoAozim, M 1, 1965, 

llAbunckaH, B.A., 
A.M.Tcpeno>kkuii. Cku<fntx 
VII-WB8. go h.3. KueB, 1983. 

KapbiiukoBckuii, ILO. O MOHemax 
c Hagnucbio EMINAKO. 
CoBemckciH apxeoAoeusi, M 1, 1960. 

KyibMuna, E.E. O ceMaHmuke 
U3o6pa^ceHUH Ha HepmoMAbiukoii 
Ba3e. CoBemekaM apxeoAozun, M 3, 

Ky^bMuna, E.E. CeMawmuka 
u3o6pa>keHUH na cepeGpsmoM 
gucke u Hekomopbie Bonpocbi 
immepnpemauuu AivrygapbUHckoeo 
kAaga. B: MckyccmBo Bocmoka u 
anmunnocmu. MockBa, 1977. 

Ky3bMuiia, E.E. O „npoHmeHUU 
mekcma" u3o6pa3umeAbHbix 
naMHmHukoB uckyccmBa 
e6pa3uucknx cmeneu cku(j>cko2o 
BpeMeHU. Becnmuk gpeBneii 
ucmopuu, M 1, 1983. 

Ky3bMuna, E.E. Onbim 
uHmepnpemauuu Hekomopbix 

naMHmmikoB ckii(j)cko2o 
uckyccmBa. Becnmuk gpeBneu 
ucmopuu, tk 1, 1984. 

AeAckoB, A.A., JJ.C.PaeBckuiL 

Ckii(|>ckuii paccka3 Fepogoma: 

(}>OAbkAOpHbie 3AeM6Hmbl U 

iicmopimeckafl UH^opMamuBHocmb. 
Ilapogu A utu u Aifipuku, N° 6, 

AykoHUH, BJ. MckyccmBo 
gpeBneeo Ilpana. MockBa, 1977. 

Makcuiviofia, M.M. Cepe6pHHoe 
3epkaA0 U3 KeAepvieca. 
CoBemckax apxeoAoeux, Bbin. XXI. 
MockBa, 1954. 

Makcuiviofia, M.M. Pumon U3 

KeAepMeca. CoBemckax 
apxeoAoeux, Bbin. XXV. MockBa, 

MaiincBim, A.IT. Tpe6eHb u <j>uaAa 
in kypaaHa CoAoxa. CoBemckax 
apxeoAoeux, Bbin. XIII. MockBa, 

MapasoB, M. 3a cerviaHmukama na 
>kenckuH o6pa3 B ckumckomo 
lnkycmBo, upo6A€MU na 
lakyanBomo, M 1 4, 1976. 

MapuiioBuH, A .II., r.A.KouieAcnko. 

O cmpykmype cku<|>cko20 
naHmeona. R Mcmopux u kyAbnnpa 
annumuo?o Atupa. MockBa, 1977. 

Mamiiickiiii, J\A. O CMbicAe 
ii3o6pa)keHUM na HepmoMAbiukou 
aM(J)ope. B: IIpoSACAm apxeoAoeuu, 
Bbin. II. Aeminapag, 1978. 

Mamiiickuii, J\A. riekmopaAb U3 
ToAcmou MoaiiAbi u BeAiikue 
>keHckue 6o;kecmBa Ckucbuu. B: 
KxAbmypa Bocmoka. JJpeonocmb u 
pant tee cpeqneBekoBbe. Aenumpag, 

D. Raevskiy Scythian Mythology 


MeAemuiickuii, E.M. TloDmuka 
Atu^a. MockBa, 1976. 

MoaoAcBckuu, IJ.II. ToBcma 
MoeuAa. KuiB, 1979. 

IlepcBogmikoBa, E.B. 
KeAepMecckan cekupa u 
c[)opMupoBaHue ckucpckoao 
sBepuHoao emuAfl. B: 17po6AeAtbi 
uanopiiu aumuHitocmu u cpegma 
BekoB MockBa, 1979. 

IlepcBogmikoBa, E.B. O 

Bo3M05kHOcmu uccAegoBaHUH 
cku<J>ckoeo sBepuHoao citiuah kak 
U3o5pa3umeAbHou cucmeMbi. B: 
JlpooACMbi ucmopuu anmumiocmu it 
cpegnwc BekoB. MockBa, 1980. 

IlepcBogmikoBa, E.B., 
JJ.C.PaeBckuu. Eiue pas o 
HasHaneHUU cku<J)ckux HaBepuiuu. B: 
Cpegtwx A31M u ee cocegu B 
gpeBtiocmu u cpegiioBekoBbe 
(McmopuM u kyAbinypa). MockBa, 

IlempoK, B.IL, M.A.Makapc6im. 

CkiKjxrkaa 2eHeaA02UHeckan 
AeeeHga. CoBemckax apxeoAoeux, 
N2 1, 1963. 

HuompoBckuu, IJ.B. CkuAbi u 
gpeBHUii Bocmok CoBemckax 
apxeoAozuM, Bbin. XIX. MockBa, 

PaeBckuii, JJ.C. Onepku ugeoAozuu 
cku(J)o-cakckux nAeMeH, Onum 
pekoHcmpykifitu ckwfickou 
MU(f)OAoeuu. MockBa, 1977. 

PacBckuii, J\S2. MogeAb Mupa 
cku(pckou kyAbmypbu MockBa, 1985. 

u Ha Bocnope. 

MiBecmax apxeoAozimeckou 

koAuiccuu. Bbin. 49, CI16., 1913. 

PocmoBueB, M.M. BopoHe>kckuu 
cepe6pflHHbiii cocyg. MamepuaAbi no 
apxeoAoeuu Poccuu. Bbin. 34. CI76., 

PocmoBucB, M.M. Cku<J)UH u 

Eocnop. Krnmumeckoe o6o3penue 
naAinmnuKoB Aumepamypnbix u 
apxeoAoeuneckux. AemiHapag, 1925. 

PbifiakoB, I J. A. FepogomoBa 
Ckwfiux . Mcmopuko -eeoepa<fiu neckuii 
atiaAin. MockBa, 1979. 

PbifiakoB, IJ.A. fl3bmecmBo gpeBtavc 
cauBxh. MockBa, 1981. 

Cku(f)o-cu6upckuu 3Bepunbiii cmuAb B 
uckyccmBe napogoB EBpa3uu. 
MockBa, 1976. 

ITlyAbu, IT.II. Ckuc^ckue u3Ba*mufl. 
B: Xygo^kecmBennax kyAbmypa u 
apxeoAoeux aumum-ioeo Atupa, 
MockBa, 1976. 

fliieiiko, M.B. Cku$uH B VII-VBB. 

go ii.3, MockBa, 1959. 

Hkciiko, M.B. McKyccTBo ckh<}>ckhx 
FIpHHepHOMopbH. B: McmopuH 
ucKycanea uapodoe CCCP, T. I. 
MocKBa, 1971. 

PocnioBucB, M.M. TlpegcmaBAeHue 
MOHapxu^eckou BAacmu B Cku<J)iiii 

Dmitriy Raevskiy 
Scythian Mythology 

Edited by Prof. Dr. Ivan Marazov 

Graphic design by Kiril Prashkov, 
Nedyalko Barakov 

Translated by Nedyalka Chakalova 

Published by Secor Publishers 

Balkan Printing Corporation 

Sofia. 1994 

.-"■.■• ,, .. : . ■;.-■ 


?x!$$lffiife • 



'■-•"'. ■ '■' '.'■ ' 











'■.•■.''•.'■■•■•■ ■ ■ ■■ ~ ■ ■ ■ 



' • ' .■•■■: 

■ ,„-..; 

ll 3g HI 

\ ' ! ' •■'• ■ m 

■';?>■ ■<;. '■ ' ■ 


• ■" " ' •' 

'"••■ '.i 






- -v •'■ 

'■-•-" v 

av 1 







« ■ • 





a* 'is 



' ' 1 


■ - ■ •- ■■■ 

. r -■